Immersed in Lyricism of European Piano Performance

May 1, 2020

By Masamichi Okazaki

I have selected piano pieces-beautiful lyrical world created by Greek, Italian, and Swedish pianists-together with the great classic album of Paul Badura-Skoda.

#94 “The Trout,” Filled with Graceful Elegance of Viennese Tradition

Schubert / Piano Quintet ‘The Trout’ ~ Paul Badura-Skoda Members of the Barylli Quartet

Schubert / Piano Quintet ‘The Trout’ ~ Paul Badura-Skoda Members of the Barylli Quartet
(Westminster ⇒ Universal Music UCCW-9045)

It is a Schubert‘s famous piano quintet known by the title “The Trout.” Because it is the masterpiece, there seems to be many marvelous performances, but if I have to pick one, I choose this Westminster disc by Paul Badura-Skoda and Members of the Barylli Quartet. It was recorded in stereo in 1958. When I was still a junior high school student, we had the record at home and I kept listening to the music, hence I have automatically remembered the timbre.

Even though the recording was done over 60 years ago, the time the stereo recording was just started, I am quite impressed with the fact that even now not only the sound is good but also the recording is marvelously well-balanced. Skoda was 31 years old at the time. The performance by Skoda, one of Viennese Troika after the war with Jörg Demus and Friedrich Gulda, is full of graceful elegance and natural sound. This disc rereleased at the end of last year includes the same number’s performance recorded with Wiener Konzerthaus Quartet in 1950 when only monaural recording was available. Many fans at that time were said to be impressed by this talented performance more than the other, however, I myself feel more sensitive expression in the stereo recording. I am thankful that we are able to compare listening to the two performances on a single CD.

#95 Vassilis Trio’s Music like Classical Chamber Music

MELOS / Vassilis Tsabropoulos, Anja Lechner, U.T.Gandhi

MELOS / Vassilis Tsabropoulos, Anja Lechner, U.T.Gandhi
(Imported Disc ECM-2081)

Vassilis Tsabropoulos is the pianist from Athens in Greece. He learned the classical music and graduated from the Juilliard School. However, he does not stick to the classical music only, thinks out of the box and continues his activities including improvising jazz. Even though this album recorded in 2008 takes the form of a piano trio, the combination of piano, cello and drums is unique. Anja Lechner, the cellist born in Germany, basically performs classical music but also joins the jazz and tango performances.

The performance by the three makes me feel like looking at a series of landscape paintings, and expands my imagination freely beyond the boundaries of music category. In addition to Vassilis’ originals, three pieces by George Gurdjieff, a composer and also a thinker born in Armenia, are included. Vassilis’ piano shines like crystal and solemnly tones down once in a while even reminding us of religious prayers. Lechner’s cello calmly expresses emotions like flickering candle flames. Gandhi’s percussion further expands the space for expression. There are calmness, illusion and chamber music like unique timbres. The recording by Stefano Amerio, the engineer who captured the attractiveness of music filled with spacious feelings fully, is also fantastic.

#96 Unique Collection of Bill Evans’ Works Performed by Italian Pianist

Bill Evans Composition Vol. 1 / Stefano Battaglia Trio

Bill Evans Composition Vol. 1 / Stefano Battaglia Trio
(Imported Disc SLASC H400.2)

Stefano Battaglia is a pianist born in Milan, Italy. After having been active in the classical field as a teen-ager, he became known as a jazz player. After 2000 he recorded a lot of albums for ECM, but this is the work in 1992 recorded for SPLASC Label in Italy. He performed only originals of Bill Evans whom he adored, and at first we are attracted by the first number, <INTERPLAY>. This is Evans’ titled number on Riverside Disc in ’62, and Stefano starts the phrase by abruptly striking the keyboards hard in the single-tone performance. Among many Italian pianists playing the melody generously, Stefano’s touch is rather dry. It is a surprising rendering that the theme of “INTERPLAY” gradually appears from those tones.

In the famous <NARDIS>, the outline of the theme slowly appears from the bold development centering on the bass. Rather than lyrical, the romance Bill’s pieces have comes out from the cool structures in the numerous performances. Every interpretation is intellectual and theoretical. Out of Bill’s collection, this album is unique and rather unusual. “Vol.2” was also recorded a year later, and a set of two CDs are also available.

#97 Beautiful Lyrical Piano

Goodbye / Bob Stenson Trio

Goodbye / Bob Stenson Trio
(ECM ⇒ Universal Music UCCE-9374)

This is the album in 2005 by the trio led by Bob Stenson, the pianist representing Sweden. Stenson’s music was drawn attention in ‘70s when he started working together with Jan Garbarek, the saxophone player also representing the local area, and the ability of expression has enhanced further as time goes by, and has sparkled like gems. This is an album of the trio with Anders Jormin (bass) and Paul Motian (drums).

The title number is the well-known masterpiece performed by Benny Goodman, and the performance is full of lyrical beauty as if the fractions of melodies are coming out gradually from the fantastic expression. Furthermore, the third performance, , is the folclore masterpiece written by Ariel Ramírez, the Algentin composer, dedicated to Alfonsina Storni, the female poet. It is also known as “Alfonsina y el Mar” with the Japanese title. It also includes melodies from pieces by Henry Purcell, the famous baroque music composer representing Britain, to Ornette Coleman, and the various repertoire is reborn in the specific world of Stenson’s trio. Rather than lyrical beauty, I feel as if the piano itself is lyrical. I also want to add that the recording fully capturing the timbre of the trio is fabulous.

About the Author

Masamichi Okazaki

Masamichi Okazaki

Surrounded by various kinds of music from his childhood, Masamichi Okazaki joined Waseda University Modern Jazz Club. He started contributing articles to music magazines when he was a student. He covers wide range of music not only trad, modern and contemporary jazz, but also from pops to classics. He writes liner notes for CDs and LPs, and is a regular contributor to “JAZZ JAPAN,” “STEREO,” and others. He joined a big band, “Shiny Stockings,” as a saxophone player. He is a director of The Music Pen Club Japan (MPCJ).