Kirill Gerstein

Kirill Gerstein Plays Liszt, Schumann & Knussen

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Kirill Gerstein was the winner of the 2010 Gilmore Artist Award, and part of that year's award included the commissioning of a new work from composer Oliver Knussen. This is the premiere recording of that work, Ophelia's Last Dance, placed between Schumann's Humoreske and Liszt's Sonata in B minor. Placing a modern piece with a much more loosely defined tonality and harmonies in between the arch-Romantic compositions may not make sense at first, but it's really all about the free-flowing expression in all three that makes the program work here. Knussen's piece doesn't reach the heights of passion or wildness that the Schumann and Liszt do, but even with an overall lighter, more delicate texture, it still has that feeling of changeability. It feels like an improvisatory, musing ballet or interlude between the two larger, more fervent works, even though they both have their own introspective moments. Gerstein is certainly a talented pianist who plays precisely, cleanly, and with a wonderful control of touch to create soft coloring in the music when it's called for, but who can also make the music exciting. In the Schumann, the sudden mood shifts are unforced and draw the listener's sympathy. In the finale of the Liszt, he easily navigates from proud to mystical to grandly majestic and bold, and back to a more thoughtful reverence for the last passages. Despite the differences in the works, Gerstein unites them in a way that makes sense, and he makes them all sound effortless.

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