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Hyperion Records

CDA67433 - Kapustin: Piano Music, Vol. 2
Recording details: June 2003
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: June 2004
Total duration: 76 minutes 56 seconds


'Everything on this remarkable disc is played with a nonchalant aplomb and magical dexterity hard to imagine from any other pianist. Hamelin … is in his element, and he has been immaculately recorded' (Gramophone)

'The music is full of virtuosity which Marc-André handles effortlessly' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Beautifully recorded, the disc is a delightful—and, as ever, distinguished—addition to Hamelin's discography as well as a major boost to the reputation of one of today's most paradoxical composers. One for the Christmas stocking, I think' (International Record Review)

'Exceptionally well-played and recorded' (The Times)

'Hamelin is one of Kapustin's strongest advocates and proves his perfect interpreter: super cool, he sounds utterly laid-back even in the most fearsome rhythmic traps; his phrasing is exquisitely turned and 'finished'; and his affection for the music shines out in every note. Hear this and you'll be hooked' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hamelin captures a quality of spontaneity, not to mention sheer agility and elegance, with awesome fluency. A remarkable release in every respect' (Fanfare, USA)

'Hamelin is one of the most gifted pianists around at the moment, and his playing here has such light and shade, wit, nuance, and blinding virtuosity that it is hard to imagine finer performances of this terrific repertoire. The recording is characteristic of Hyperion's piano sound at its considerable best. All in all, one of the most enjoyable piano discs I have heard in ages. Recommended with unquenchable enthusiasm!' (International Piano)

'Marc-André Hamelin simply flies through the music, ignoring any technical difficulties with the most marvellous command and virtuosity … in all, this second disc of Kapustin's marvellous music from Hyperion is the most exceptionally satisfying discovery' (Hi-Fi Plus)

'Hamelin plays with all his trademark virtuosity and nimble wit, making the keyboard thunder and sing' (San Francisco Chronicle)

'Chapeau évidemment à cet incroyable Marc-André Hamelin dont la technique époustouflante s'adapte à tous les genres musicaux. Précipitez-vous pour acquérir cet événement discographique et découvrir cette musique sans pareil. Pour notre part, nous l'avons écoutée une bonne dizaine de fois pour bien nous convaincre de la réjouissante folie du dénommé Kapustin!' (Répertoire, France)

Piano Music, Vol. 2
Dream: Moderato  [3'13]
Shuitka: Vivace  [2'17]
[untitled]  [1'53]
Allemande  [2'28]
Sarabande  [4'57]
Gigue  [1'24]
Grave  [4'36]
Vivace  [2'30]

Here is a disc to set the pulse racing. Nikolai Kapustin is a Russian composer who writes jazz piano music teeming with energetic spontaneity and bristling with the kind of creative immediacy one associates with improvisation (although the music is fully and meticulously written out). Kapustin is already known to the Hyperion catalogue through Steven Osborne’s trail-blazing recording of the first two Piano Sonatas and the Preludes in Jazz Style, and Marc-André Hamelin is another pianist who has for years played his music in concert. Hamelin’s legendary technical prowess and his exceptional affinity with jazz fuse to create one of the most sparkling, infectiously foot-tapping piano discs you could wish to hear.

In a recital spanning various traditional instrumental genres, Marc-André Hamelin includes two sets of studies. In terms of their stylistic breadth, formidable technical challenges and audacious invention, the Eight Concert Études (1984) hold their own against the celebrated benchmarks in the genre, from Liszt and Lyapunov to Godowsky’s re-worked Chopin. The Five Études in Different Intervals (1992) begins with a madcap study in minor seconds recalling the bouncy demeanor of Zez Confrey’s Kitten on the Keys (although here someone has dosed poor kitty with Grade A Catnip!), and ends with an octave study to end all octave studies. Throughout, Kapustin’s bottomless well of thematic resoursefulness works overtime.

A disc to dazzle your friends with – and play “guess the composer!“

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Envisage this scenario: you are a music lover who appreciates jazz (and what serious music lover does not?); someone proposes a blindfold test, and slips the present disc onto a CD player, without mentioning anything about the music or the performer. Fair enough. First you notice the instrument, then the idiom. That’s easy: solo piano, jazz. The question is who’s playing? The music doesn’t resemble the popular songs or show tunes one often hears from mainstream jazz pianists, but rather the harmonic language associated with, say, Chick Corea. You assume, fairly, that the pianist is an eclectic, improvising virtuoso, most likely an American, who spins out inventive, scintillating right-hand runs against busy, restless left-hand ostinatos and chordal jumps. It’s definitely a player of the modern (post 1970s) school who avoids the trappings of so-called ‘free jazz’ yet harks back to broad, loping Erroll Garner chords and stride piano, circa 1920s Harlem ticklers like Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and James P Johnson: sort of like the super-pianistic love child of Dick Hyman and Roger Kellaway, two über-pianists in their own right. But who is it?

Before you venture a guess, your host asks if you are sure that this pianist is actually improvising. At first you think yes, after all, this is jazz, right? What about those elaborate figurations, complex runs, and sense of everything holding together? It is certainly true that the greatest improvising soloists and ensembles yield some of the most cohesive and varied music ever made (Miles Davis’s classic mid-1960s quintet, the Bill Evans/Scott La Faro/Paul Motian trio, Benny Goodman’s early trio and quartet, Weather Report, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and countless others). Yet as unfettered and organic as this piano music appears on the surface, there’s more pre-planning going on than meets the eye and ear.

Your host flashes a knowing smile, and places the present CD cover in your hand. The mystery musician is Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin, whose ebullient, energetic music is indeed through-composed, notated down to the last hemidemisemiquaver, and rendered as written (without improvisation, that is) by Marc-André Hamelin.

For all his improvisatory prowess, Kapustin’s early training embodied the Russian classical piano tradition through and through. Born in Gorlovka, Ukraine, in 1937, Kapustin began to play the instrument at the age of seven, studying with Avrelian Rubakh, a pupil of Felix Blumenfeld (the teacher of Simon Barere and Vladimir Horowitz). Later Kapustin attended the Moscow Conservatory, where he worked with Alexander Goldenweiser, then in his early eighties. Goldenweiser had trained under Siloti, Pabst, Arensky, Ippolitov-Ivanov and Taneyev, and could count Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Medtner among his peers. During his time in Moscow, Kapustin discovered jazz, playing at first with his own small group, and touring the Soviet Union for eleven years with Oleg Lundström’s Jazz Orchestra. Kapustin’s dual interests in jazz and composing inspired him to combine the two disciplines. Writer Martin Anderson asked Kapustin what made him consider fusing classical structure and jazz idiom. “Because I had never heard it”, Kapustin replied. “And once I had started I understood that it was real. When I took it to my friends they were very excited, and so I understood that I was on the right way.”

Many classical composers, of course, have effectively incorporated jazz in their music, including Ravel, Stravinsky, Schulhoff, Milhaud and Copland, to say nothing of the jazz-classical hybrid works that proliferated in the heyday of the Third Stream. Jazz, however, serves as Kapustin’s mouthpiece, his creative food and drink. He hasn’t just merely appropriated but truly internalized the music’s stylistic and textural evolution from Scott Joplin to Keith Jarrett. Moreover, the piano writing itself is borne out of Kapustin’s considerable virtuoso capabilities, and bristles with the kind of tactile immediacy one associates with improvisational inspiration. Yet Kapustin feels that he has more control over his material when working within the tried and true forms that have dominated Western classical piano literature (“you cannot make an improvisation of a sonata”, he claimed). As it happens, the forms never straightjacket the music’s assured, forward momentum and spontaneous aura. This has partly to do with Kapustin’s ability to manipulate thematic and decorative elements to the point where they provide a compositional equivalent to the rhapsodic discipline the best jazz pianists bring to their out-of-tempo playing. Think of Oscar Peterson’s dazzling introductions and codas, for example, or those of Bill Evans in his later years. Not surprisingly, Kapustin, according to writer Leslie De’Ath, cites Peterson as the single most influential figure upon his own music.

The Variations, Op 41 (1984) encompass Kapustin’s style in microcosm. A brief introduction leads into a thirty-two-bar theme in D flat major that moves between a jazzed-up rendition of the solo bassoon motive that opens Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps (‘the rite of swing’, if you will!) and a descending, bluesy gesture. Kapustin subjects the Stravinsky-derived theme to subtle rhythmic displacements within and over the barlines. The steady medium swing tempo is implied more than overtly stated. In the first variation the right hand’s fragmented lines and aphoristic, Count Basie-like chordal punctuations are in constant dialogue with the left hand’s walking and talking bass rejoinders. There are also anchoring moments of steady chordal ‘comping’ that support longer lines in both hands. The steady stream of right-hand semiquavers concluding this variation dovetail into the next one, building up to some grandly swinging, full-bodied piano writing that Erroll Garner would recognize as his own. An eleven-bar interlude with darting, be-boppish lines over a walking bass sets the stage for a change of key and a quick, skittish variation in 3/4 time. All this activity winds down in another transition, this time introducing a Larghetto minor-key variation evoking Kapustin’s Russian romantic pedigree, capped by a brief cadenza that plunges right into the concluding Presto: a rollicking pair of variations jam-packed with quicksilver passagework and scintillating stride piano.

For stylistic breadth, formidable technical challenges, and audacious invention, the Eight Concert Études, Op 40 (1984) more than hold their own with the genre’s celebrated benchmarks, from Liszt and Lyapunov to Godowsky’s retooled Chopin and Earl Wild’s Gershwin transformations. No 1 (Allegro assai) tears out from the starting gate with a twelve-bar introduction that quickly transports us to the crowded streets of Rio de Janeiro at the height of Carnival season. Yet for all the music’s giddy groove and melodic uplift, its tempestuous, Chopinseque figurations never relent. Nor do the second Étude’s equally difficult yet gentler double notes that provide a contemporary counterpart to Rachmaninov’s Prelude Op 23 No 9. Its outer sections filter Arensky and Lyapunov through Kapustin’s jazz-tinted eyeglasses, in contrast to pure, unadulterated jazz fantasia characterizing the central episode. The first Étude’s Latino elements come more aggressively to the fore in the Toccatina (No 3), with the young, passionate Scriabin peeking in at fleeting lyrical moments. Repeated notes jump from register to register, suggesting the dapper syncopations of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Imagine the long, gorgeously discursive lines Chick Corea spins out in his unaccompanied improvisations against a slow and steady, processional-like left-hand accompaniment (think Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, or Bill Evans’ Peace Piece) alternating between 3/4 and 4/4 time, and you’ve got the essence of Étude No 4. At times the textural tables turn, so to speak, as the filigree descends into the piano’s lower depths, while the billowy left-hand chords, in turn, gain altitude and get to sing out the piece’s big tunes in the process.

In No 5 Kapustin subjects the classic twelve-bar blues form to a playful boogie-woogie treatment, replete with whirling barrelhouse licks, Leonard Bernstein accents that are unpredictable enough to cause an ‘age of anxiety’ on the performer’s part. Happily, Kapustin’s sophisticated reharmonizations never detract from the music’s earthy core. The multi-strain formula employed so effectively in Scott Joplin’s rags and James P Johnson’s stride showpieces finds a modern counterpart in Étude No 6, albeit with twists and turns that wouldn’t have happened without Stephen Sondheim. And just as Sondheim’s Follies pastiches the styles of Broadway’s first golden age (Gershwin, Porter, Kern, Berlin), so Étude No 7’s disarming tunefulness evokes a subsequent generation of American musical theatre giants (Frank Loesser, Cy Coleman, Charles Strouse, Jerry Herman). Behind the music’s easy lope, however, lies some dazzling piano writing, including extensive, exposed passages in thirds. No 8 (Prestissimo) is similar in style and mood to Nos 1 and 3, but more compact.

The next-to-last of Kapustin’s ten Bagatelles, Op 59 (1991) starts with an ascerbic, slightly dissonant eight-bar introduction that gives way to a sunny tune that wouldn’t be out of place in a Brazilian chorino. Notice how the undulating left hand provides a bass function as well as melodic counterlines, rendering a rhythm section superfluous. The Suite in the Old Style, Op 28 alludes to the rich mother lode of African-American spirituals and Gospel music through the structural contours of a Bach French Suite or Partita, with each movement corresponding in texture, tempo, and hierarchy of repeats to its precise baroque counterpart.

Similarly, Kapustin has found the classical sonata form to be a congenial and pliable vehicle for composition. His initial efforts in this genre (the first and second sonatas are performed by Steven Osborne on Hyperion CDA67159) are four-movement works that literally gush with unbridled creativity. The three-movement Piano Sonata No 6, Op 62 (1991), by contrast, subscribes to a more circumscribed game plan, and seems positively Haydnesque in relation to the first two sonatas’ Beethovenian ambitions. Its opening movement (Allegro ma non troppo) adheres to the classic Sonata-Allegro paradigm, and derives most of its material from the jaunty main theme, whose first five notes, coincidentally or not, are identical to the first five of Eddie Harris’s renowned jazz standard Freedom Jazz Dance. The central Grave movement exemplifies Kapustin’s gift for lyrical introspection and melodic poignancy, and the zestful finale commences in the spirit of a tarantella, while detouring through the alleyways of boogie-woogie and stride. Our aforementioned Haydn analogy applies even more to the single-movement Sonatina, Op 100, not only for its relatively modest demands on the pianist, but also for its touches of humour, like the one bar of Andante following the development section that momentarily recapitulates in the ‘wrong’ key.

If Kapustin’s Op 40 Concert Études exemplify his jazz style in its most lush, romantic keyboard manifestations, the Five Études in Different Intervals, Op 68 hold twentieth-century virtuoso piano techniques up to a fun-house mirror. The first Étude is a madcap study in minor seconds and major sevenths that recalls the bouncy demeanor of Zez Confrey’s Kitten on the Keys. In this case, however, someone has dosed poor kitty with Grade A Catnip! The second piece, an Étude in fourths and fifths, touches upon the rhythmic complexities and constantly shifting accents familiar from Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano and György Ligeti’s first book of Piano Études. Should you be curious to hear how Scriabin’s Étude in Thirds might sound recomposed by a hyperactive Mariachi musician with an obsession for Burt Bacharach’s Do You Know the Way to San José, look no further than Étude No 3, where busy left-hand runs and broken octaves provide a safety net for the right hand’s acrobatic thirds and sixths. In Étude No 4 the first Étude’s right-hand minor seconds return in their major guise, served up with the type of syncopated, punchy swing immortalized in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. The fifth and final Étude is a veritable tour de force that aims to be the octave study to end all octave studies. Its main ingredients superficially resemble Gottschalk’s paraphrases on national themes, the guileless melodic sweetness of Moszkowski’s La Jongleuse, the celebrated repeated notes of Liszt’s Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody, the finale of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, Miles Davis’s So What, and just about any up-tempo Erroll Garner recording you can name. Kapustin’s bottomless well of thematic resourcefulness works overtime here, and generates the kind of momentum that might have encouraged another composer to go on and on and on. And on and on. But like most good composers, Kapustin knows when to stop. A decisive, upward glissando on the black keys brings the opus, and this recital, to a rousing close.

Jed Distler © 2004

Other albums in this series
'Kapustin: Piano Music, Vol. 1' (CDA67159)
Kapustin: Piano Music, Vol. 1
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