“Change of Keys” = Piano Works by HAYDN; BEETHOVEN; CHOPIN; SCHUMANN/LISZT; DEBUSSY; BARTOK – Carol Leone, piano – MSR Classics

A varied and nicely complied recital played with strength and conviction.

“Change of Keys” = HAYDN: Sonata in C, HOB XVI: 50; BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109; CHOPIN: Ballade No. 1 in g, Op. 23; SCHUMANN (arr. LISZT): Liebeslied “Widmung” S.566; DEBUSSY: L’Isle joyeuse, L.106; BARTOK: Sonata, BB 88, SZ.80 – Carol Leone, piano – MSR Classics MS 1616, 73:09 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Carol Leone, currently a professor of piano at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of Music, counts among her pedagogues Mieczyslaw Horszowski at the Curtis Institute of Music, and Guido Agosti after earning an honors diploma during a summer at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena.

She has the chops for this wonderfully varied and intrepid program, displaying formidable technical acumen and a fine sense of lyricism. Her Haydn is crisp and sturdy, while his student Beethoven’s late work suitably introspective without losing the superb yet odd structure that couches so much of Beethoven’s later music. Chopin’s opus is quite a change, yet Leone manages the transition without a second thought, and the short step to Liszt’s Schumann arrangement proves mild indeed.

Only the Debussy seems odd to me here. Not an especially beloved piece to begin with, Leone seems to miss the radical pensiveness of this painting-inspired work, though she can certainly play it well. No such problem exists when returning to the edgy Bartok, a work that fits her persuasive interpretation to a tee.

The overall concept of this album, playing on three different sized keyboards to more easily accommodate the technical aspects asked by each composer, is quite interesting, but I think ultimately flawed. While it is true that someone with very small hands might have some tremendous adapting to do when playing a composer like Rachmaninov, after seeing Maria Joao Pires play Chopin (and she has very small hands) with such amazing dexterity, and even Daniel Barenboim (short stubby hands) rip through Beethoven’s five concertos, I wonder how much of a problem this really is. But in the end, all that matters are Leone’s ability to traverse these wonders successfully, and offer rigorous and thought-provoking interpretations, which she most certainly does. The sound is warm and enveloping, nicely captured at SMU.

A fine disc, affectionately recommended.

—Steven Ritter


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