Pianist Jenny Q. Chai is a versatile artist. Her repertoire includes works by contemporary Europeans such as Phillipe Manoury and Marco Stroppa (her dissertation topic), and she recently recorded an excellent portrait CD on Naxos of music by Nils Vigeland. She also performs standard repertoire, such as Robert Schumann and Claude Debussy.
On January 10, in a program entitled Where is Chopin? (subtitled “Steampunk Piano 2”), Chai creates a juxtaposition of Carnaval by Schumann with brand new pieces that feature artificial intelligence, performing the music of Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, a Stanford University-based composer who uses the AI program Antescofo. It supplies a live visual component that responds to the particular nuances and inflections of a given performance. Doubtless Chai will give the program plenty to think about.
Schuman Piano Concerto; Strauss Burleske
Hélène Grimaud, piano; Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, David Zinman, conductor
Erato CD “The Erato Story” series
The Burleske for solo piano and orchestra has felled more than one pianist. Strauss had quite a challenging time finding a pianist to premiere it. It is a gloriously thrilling finger-buster, though; one can readily see why pianists persist in programming it. Earlier this year, I heard Emmanuel Ax play it with the Nashville Symphony. It was a brilliant and exciting performance. When I got this CD, I wondered if it could measure up to the high standard set by Ax.
In this reissue of a 1995 disc on the Erato label, part of a series called “The Erato Story” that celebrates the label’s history, Hélène Grimaud appears with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, conducted by David Zinman. Grimaud avoids the temptation – and trap – of playing the Burleske like a barnstormer. She is fleet-fingered, her fast passages taking on a delightfully mercurial quality. Where power is required, it is there, but more often the pianist makes us feel like there is easiness to passages that are anything but. Grimaud’s Schumann is surefooted as well, with energetic playing, supple phrasing, and myriad dynamic hues. Zinman leads an enthusiastic-sounding ensemble with great assuredness, letting them soar when called upon to do so but never at the expense of overwhelming Grimaud’s playing.