For a debut album, this really sparkles.
“Resonance” = BACH: Partita No. 4 in D, BWV 828; CAROLINE SHAW: Gustave le Gray; SCHUMANN: Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6 – Amy Yang, piano – MSR Classics MS 1655, 76:18 ****:
Amy Yang, a member of the chamber music faculty at Curtis Institute of Music, offers us her first solo album, and a beautiful piece of work it is. The title comes from her own inclinations to pieces she has lived with a long time, and a new composer who strikes a resonating chord with her as well.
Bach’s Partita No. 4 is probably his best known and recorded. It’s memorable tunes, sprightly rhythms and affirmative, upbeat nature have long made it popular with audiences, and it is the one most recorded when not done with the other five. Debuting with this piece is a little risky as there are many great pianists who have set it down for posterity. But Yang approaches it with all the confidence in the world, offering a performance of great versatility, exceptionally improvisational in spirit, with a wonderful sense of line and robust, warm tone.
Just about everyone now knows the name of Caroline Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize for Music winner in 2013 for her a cappella piece Partita for 8 Voices. That truly is a worthy entry from a then very young composer who would go on to write music for all idioms and performance artists with an approachable style, yet adventurous enough to bring back memories of the avant-garde compositional experiments of the 1960s and 70s. But the year before, she composed Gustave le Gray for Amy Yang, a tribute to the famous nineteenth century photographer, that incorporates ingredients of Chopin’s Mazurka in a, op. 17:4. Shaw calls this work a “multilayered portrait” of Chopin’s piece, but for me it ultimately fails, as one in a long line of works that have also incorporated existing and well-known compositions as their basis. In other words, lots of charm but little in substance—I kept wanting to hear the Chopin without all the Shaw interference. Alfred Schnittke did the same thing many times in his music, but his contributions were more substantive. Nonetheless, it will no doubt please Shaw’s deserving legions of fans, as she is a composer on the move, and rightfully acclaimed. I do hope that Yang will record some Chopin after this tantalizing tease.
Ending the program is Schumann’s Davidsbundlertanze (League of David Dances), named after the composer’s music society, and written in 1837. These eighteen characterful pieces are inspired by his infatuation and love for future wife Clara Wieck, whose mazurka serves as the foundational theme. Schumann’s Florestan and Eusebius assist as the protagonists in the conversation about contemporary music, each of them taking turns. Though not dances per se, they are intimate and colorful accounts of imaginary personalities that whetted Schumann’s inspiration to the point of including dialog descriptions in the first edition of the score, which he removed later, along with some minor musical changes, and the elimination of “tanze” from the title. Once again, Yang chooses a challenging work for debut as there are umpteen superb recordings of this work. But because of her long affinity for the piece, and considerable understanding of this complex and nuanced opus, the performance is a winner on all fronts. Technically it poses no challenges for her considerable skills, and her subtle harmonic shadings and ability to discriminate between the conversations, along with some truly gorgeous piano sound, make this a very desirable release.