01 Bach Mythes ContestedMyths Contested
Washington Bach Consort; Dana Marsh
Acis APL53752 (acisproductions.com)

Johann Sebastian Bach is synonymous with church music, writing hundreds of compositions for choir, orchestra and organ, many of which were intended for use in his role as Kapellmeister of Leipzig’s Thomaskirche. In addition to these myriad works, Bach also wrote a number of secular vocal works, including the stunning Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde, BWV 201, also known as The Contest between Phoebus and Pan, featured on this disc by the Washington Bach Consort.

Titled Myths Contested, this recording juxtaposes Bach’s secular musical drama with American composer Trevor Weston’s A New Song. This work, commissioned by the Bach Consort, addresses the challenges that arise from attempting to evaluate music from past centuries in relation to contemporary music, an issue that resonates with anyone who is asked to review music in a public forum.

Bach’s Contest between Phoebus and Pan is a delightful work composed in traditional cantata form, with recitatives and arias bookended by choral movements. The Washington Bach Consort manages Bach’s contrapuntal intricacies masterfully, and the orchestra shines in the opening movement, particularly through the virtuosic writing for wind instruments (which is characteristic Bach, given that the choir is singing “Hasten, you swirling winds.”).

Weston’s A New Song is fascinating, a modern “cantata” for choir and Baroque orchestra that adheres to certain stylistic conventions while defying others. For example, the opening and closing movements include trumpet and full choir, and arias (titled “songs”) are the primary middle movements, although a chorus and chorale are each interspersed between the solo movements. While these traditions look back to the Baroque, the musical vernacular is strikingly different than anything Bach ever wrote, resulting in a listening experience that is simultaneously familiar yet new.

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02 Art Choral 5ArtChoral Vol.5 – Romantique
Ensemble ArtChoral; Matthias Maute
ATMA ACD2 2424 (atmaclassique.com/en)

The Montreal-based Ensemble ArtChoral – initially known as Ensemble Vocal Arts-Québec, was founded by Yves Courville in 1979 with the aim of presenting professional choral music both in Canada and internationally. Since then, the group has earned a formidable reputation, and with the appointment of Matthias Maute as music director in 2019, the ensemble has not only increased its appearances, but has also been the recipient of two JUNOs and an OPUS Prize (for Musical Event of the Year in 2020). 

This newest recording on the ATMA label presents music by Romanic-period composers including Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Fauré, appropriately titled Romantique. It is the fifth in a projected series of 11 aiming to cover the entire history of European choral music. The pieces on the program are brief – none more than five minutes in length – and the entire program totals no more than 40 minutes. Opening with Rheinberger’s Abenlied Op.69 No.3, the choir sings with a solid conviction while demonstrating a fine sense of phrasing and dynamics.

Three songs by Brahms – Schnitter Tod, Abendständchen and Darthulas Grabgesang – are all fine examples of the German volkslied tradition, while the choir has no difficulty in capturing the mystical religious mood in Tchaikovsky’s Hymne des Chérubins Op.41.

The fine sound produced by Ensemble ArtChoral’s performers together with the thoughtfully chosen program go to make this a compelling recording, although it could have been even more fulfilling had Maute included one or two more substantial works. Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble and doesn’t mar an otherwise fine performance – we can look forward to more in the series.

03 Verdi ErnaniGiuseppe Verdi – Ernani
Soloists; Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; James Conlon
Dynamic DVD 37972 DVD (naxos.com/Search/KeywordSearchResults/?q=37972)

For some unknown reason Verdi’s Ernani does not even make it to the operatic maestro’s greatest hits. This performance by Francesco Meli (in the title role), Roberto Frontali (Don Carlo), Vitalij Kowaljow (Don Ruy Gomez de Silva) and the inimitable Maria José Siri (Elvira) is nothing short of stellar, more so for the masterful direction of Leo Muscato who enables them to bring the characters to life. James Conlon’s conducting of the Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is superb. 

There is real gain from watching this DVD, with those stars throwing every fibre of their being into intense portrayals of what becomes an emotional whirlpool by the end of the opera. Verdi adapted Victor Hugo’s play which came at a time when Hugo was waging a “culture war” that aimed to promote “ideas for progress” in the 1830s. By the time of this opera the Italian master’s work had already become synonymous with the word “operatic”.

Verdi throws his characters in Ernani into infernos for tortured souls. But while the passion with which Meli, Frontali, Kowaljow and Siri play their parts may not be unexpected, it is impressive indeed to watch and listen to the subtlety of so much soft singing. Meli and Siri’s performances tingle with so much nervous intensity. The set is elegantly simple, costumes are superb down to the last accessory and the filming – designed to accentuate the melodrama – is excellent.

04 Verdi I Due FoscariGuiseppe Verdi – I Due Foscari
Soloists; Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno; Cappella Aquileia; Marcus Bosch
Coviello Classics COV92514 Blu-ray (covielloclassics.de/en)

I Due Foscari is Verdi’s sixth opera, preceded immediately by Ernani, both in the same year, 1844 with the same librettist, Francesco Maria Piave. It is well documented that Verdi was very actively involved with the development of the libretto, wishing to inject it with more theatricality. Based on the true story of Francesco Foscari, the 65th and longest reigning Doge of the Republic of Venice. The opera owes its inspiration to the poetic drama play by England’s Lord Byron, The Two Foscari.   

On the surface, the plot of I Due Foscari is the tragic story of a father and son and the father’s responsibilities to the Republic versus his responsibilities as a father. The Doge of 15-century Venice, Francesco and his seemingly popular son Jacopo highlight the fight for power and corruption of the ruling families of the realm. When Jacopo is wrongly accused and convicted of a crime for which he will be exiled, his father doesn’t defend him. Prior to being exonerated in the third act, Jacopo dies in jail from a broken heart. Francesco is forced from power, finds out his son has died and he too perishes of heartbreak.

The baritone Luca Grassi as the Doge, Héctor Sandoval as Jacopo and Sophie Gordeladze as Lucrezia his wife, all deliver stunning performances. Marcus Bosch conducts the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno and the Orchestra of Heidenheim Opera Festival brilliantly, supporting the inspired stage direction of Philipp Westerbarkei. 

05 Wagner SiegfriedWagner – Siegfried
Simon O’Neill; Anja Kampe; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Simon Rattle
BR Klassik 900211 (brso.de/en/cd-dvd/Richard-wagner-siegfried/)

Siegfried was the third in Wagner’s Ring Cycle; preceded by Das Rheingold and Die Walküre and followed by Götterdämmerung. Die Walküre ended with the pregnant heroine Sieglinde fleeing into the woods, and with the Valkyrie Brünnhilde condemned to sleep within a ring of fire until rescued.

This opera skips ahead: Sieglinde’s child is now a young man, Siegfried. Since Sieglinde died in childbirth, Siegfried was raised by a Nibelung, Mime. Siegfried is defiant, boastful and even arrogant. The role is played to the hilt by Simon O’Neill, his powerful tenor fulfilling all of the qualities with which Wagner had imbued Siegfried’s character. These are not negative traits. Instead, they reflect the unconquerable nature and innate heroism of the great Wagnerian character.

The finale, Act III, features exceptional music. Baritone Michael Volle is powerful, even majestic, playing Wotan, The Wanderer, and gives the performance of his life as he bares his soul to the goddess Erda. Meanwhile the sequence where O’Neill’s Siegfried expresses his feelings for Brünnhilde (sung by the lustrous soprano Anja Kampe) veers from plangent lyricism to flame-toned declamation.

Sir Simon Rattle conducting Symphonieorchester des Bayerischer Rundfunks is a strong contender for the finest Siegfried on CD in recent times. O’Neill is at his peak as Siegfried while Volle is uniquely authoritative as Wotan. Rattle is a less showy conductor than his rivals, but he offers a refreshingly unforced quality, one to which his performers are deeply responsive. 

06 Frati UccelliFrati Uccelli
La Squadra di Genova
Alborada Editions (alborada-editions.com)

Musical recordings are most often self-contained microcosms, with everything that a listener needs to understand the material in question contained on a single disc or playlist. For those looking for greater information, detail and context, liner notes and booklets are included, but while these are undoubtedly helpful, they are not often required to listen to a particular piece of music.

What happens, however, when the music one is listening to is extracted from a larger artistic production, of which music is only a portion of the whole? Consider, for example, Wagner’s idea of “Gesamtkunstwerk” or Total Art Work, in which all the senses are engaged in the consumption of a work of art. While one can listen to Wagner’s music away from the stage, it is questionable whether he would be pleased with the thought of tearing his Total Art Work limb from limb into its constituent parts.

It is this reviewer’s conundrum that such a situation has arisen here, with La Squadra di Genova’s Frati uccelli, a small, five-track release that originally accompanied Nino Laisné’s visual and sound installation of the same name at the Saorge Monastery in France. This monastery was previously home to Franciscan monks and Frati uccelli attempts to revive their memory through the monastery’s physical space and these polyphonic vocal works.

The music itself is a blend of Genovese and early Baroque polyphony, playfully interpreted by La Squadra di Genova. Crafted specifically for the Frati uccelli exhibit, these works are adaptations of texts by historical figures including Luca Marenzio and Giovanni Legrenzi – both of whom were notable composers – as well as two Anonymous period compositions, all of which provide delightful forays into early Italian musical styles.

07 WonderlandWonderland
The King’s Singers
Signum Classics SIGCD739 (kingssingers.com/albums)

With his centenary year ending, at last there comes a vocal project worthy of one of the most iconic and adventurous composers of the 20th century, György Ligeti. That project comes in the name and shape of Wonderland, by the celebrated King’s Singers. To be exact, while the project is built around Ligeti’s eerily beautiful Nonsense Madrigals, the composer’s delightfully zany world is embellished by works – equally and beautifully daft – by seven other composers who take us through the rabbit hole of Ligeti’s making.

Makiko Kinoshita, Ola Gjeilo, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, Joe Hisaishi, Judith Bingham, Malcolm Williamson and Paul Patterson give us equal cause for merriment and joy as they leap off Ligeti’s song cycle with marvellous works of their own. 

Together the seven composers create a parallel world evocative of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland (that Alice tumbles into), as magical as Ligeti’s madcap world (not unlike his Breughelland – a world derived from the paintings of Breughel and Bosch – from his opera Le Grand Macabre). Only this Wonderland is one infinitely more light-hearted, evoking Ligeti’s inimitably personal manner with a lyric often expressed in a complex rhythmic style in which conflicting layers of tempi are used to drive narratives – and the music – ever onward.

In the wrong hands these works might sound merely odd. But The King’s Singers deliver the crazy lyrics with consummate musicality, allowing the narratives of their strange beauty to flower.

08 Afarin MansouriAfarin Mansouri – Dancing with Love
Afarin Mansouri; Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 31923 (afarinmansouri.com/recorded-albums)

Toronto-based Afarin Mansouri (b.Teheran 1974) came to Canada in 2002 and studied composition, receiving her doctorate from York University. Singing in Farsi, she brings her vibrant mezzo-soprano voice to nine of this CD’s 12 selections, all involving aspects of “Love.”

Mansouri has drawn most of the texts from medieval Persian poetry. Verses by venerated 13th-century mystic Rumi and 14th-century Hafiz adorn three arias from her opera Zuleykha. Mansouri calls her libretto a revisionist “female perspective” on the biblical Potiphar’s wife, lovesick for Joseph. In addition to four solo songs, she’s joined in two duets by beguiling, velvet-voiced tenor Milad Bagheri, including the finale of her opera-in-progress The Endless Sea. Its about the tenth-century Rabia Balkhi, considered Persia’s first female poet, and incorporates Balkhi’s poetry. Bagheri also solos in two of Mansouri’s songs.

They’re variously accompanied by pianist Cheryl Duvall and other members of the Thin Edge New Music Collective, plus Padideh Ahrarnejad on the waisted-lute tar and Ali Masoudi on tombak and daf drums. Mansouri also adds atmospheric electronic soundscapes to three selections.

I can’t imagine anyone, whatever their musical preferences, not enjoying Mansouri’s richly melodic, vivaciously rhythmic and exotically scored compositions, inspired by traditional Persian music yet contemporary in sensibility. Her rapturous traversal of love’s joy, yearning and despair ends with the poignant A Lament for Love for solo flute, played by Terry Lim. It expresses, writes Mansouri, her “heartfelt love and nostalgia for the homeland.” Texts are included.

09 Byrne Kozar DuoIt Floats Away from You
New Focus Recordings FCR378 (newfocusrecordings.com)

A debut album from the Byrne:Kozar:Duo hits an impressive mark, with finely curated and exquisitely performed new works for soprano and trumpet.

Undoubtedly, this ensemble is a unique one. It unveils surprising tonal ecosystems and colouristic effects rarely heard, originating from an elliptic Renaissance sensibility. The duo endeavours to “guide the way, providing a template for integration across multiple parameters as a powerful vehicle for expression and depth.” Once moving past such novelties, the listener embraces a lustrous, generous universe of diptych-infused dedication, perfectly integrated in a concordant yet plural narrative. The skilled synthesis from these two musicians is one reason for this achievement. The other: the compositions themselves, boasting sensitive text settings and idiomatic constructions.

Austere, even stark, music like Li Qi’s Lonely Grave (with a fixed media component) sets a compelling foil to such pieces as Alexandre Lunsqui’s Two Patches and Jeffrey Gavette’s Proof of Concept for Floating Child, the latter exemplifying the duo’s textural and rhythmic possibilities, inspired by heavy metal music and Meredith Monk.

While each track is well ordered, the disc plays more as a recital rather than a coherent album. That is not necessarily scabrous, especially when considering a debut record. Indeed it might compel the listener to leave the audio space and seek live performances from this new duo, having whet the aural appetite with unexpected soundscapes. Let the armchair listener witness first hand the energy, intimacy and aired spell, the Byrne:Kozar:Duo so masterfully conjures.

01 Lovers and MournersLovers and Mourners – Variations and Sonatas from 17th Century Germany
Dorian Komanoff Bandy; Hank Knox; Elinor Frey
Leaf Music LM263 (leaf-music.ca)

The artfulness of virtuoso composer-performers, nurtured and cherished in the 17th century, is at the centre of this lovely new release, cleverly reinforced by violinist Dorian Komanoff Bandy’s choice of repertoire. Presented here are variations and sonatas from 17th-century German composers Schenck, Walther, Biber, Pisendel and Becker. Variations, arguably a favourite compositional technique of that time, allowed both composers and performers to display their respective abilities and imagination by the way of building up rich melodic and harmonic material over a short, repeated theme, usually in the bass. Similar to lovers and mourners, going through spiraling, intense emotions, the music here expresses meandering states via “stylus phanansticus,” a popular compositional style of that time that was free flowing, improvisational and characterized by swirling virtuosic elements.

Bandy’s virtuosity is on full display here – relentless, precise and, above all, dazzling. He draws beautiful colours out of his Baroque violin, even amidst the fast passages or more uniform material. The emotional scope of his interpretation is impressive, especially in Biber’s sonatas. The Baroque-style articulations are brought to life with well thought-out phrasing and back and forth trading of ideas within the ensemble. Harpsichordist Hank Knox and gambist Elinor Frey, although mostly in the supporting roles in this repertoire, are nevertheless essential in building the overall sound and direct a spotlight on the inventiveness of these compositions.

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02 Tendres EchoesTendres échos
Anne Thivierge; Mélisande Corriveau; Eric Milnes
ATMA ACD2 2871 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Flutist Anne Thivierge, viola de gambist Mélisande Corriveau and harpsichordist Eric Milnes, playing period instruments, bring works from François Couperin’s Concert Royal No 2 for Flute and Continuo in D Major and Minor and the Pièces de clavecin, the 14th suite (of 27) from his book Ordres to life – together with works by Marin Marais, Michel Blavet and Jean-Marie Leclair.

Couperin’s work is marked by expressiveness enhanced by rich ornamentation, which – unusual for the time – is never left to the discretion of the performer, but always precisely specified. Here he adopts what came to be called style brisé (broken style) in which the notes of the chord are not all played together, but one after the other (originally in imitation of lutists).

Marais, who studied with Jean-Baptiste Lully, had come under the latter’s development of a style that melded the French and the Italian (of Corelli). Marais’ Pièce for Viola de gamba and Continuo Suite No.1 in D Minor soars in its rhapsodic La follette movement and ends with the soulfully expressive Gigue La favorite.

On Blavet’s Sonata for Flute and Continuo in D Minor Op.2 No.2, the flute is clean and vibrant, the continuo gently sympathetic, as the musicians immerse themselves in the music’s warm beauty. An alert sense of rhetoric is evident in the intricately wrought, magical performance of Leclair’s Trio Sonata for Flute, Viola de gamba and Continuo in D Major.

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03 Boulder BachBoulder Bach Festival
Boulder Bach Festival; Zachary Carrettin
Sono Luminus DSL-02265 (sonoluminus.com)

Recorded immediately after the 2022 Boulder Bach Festival, this disc contains several of the highlights featured in that year’s performances, including Bach’s Concerto for two violins, BWV 1043, and the magnificent Concerto for harpsichord, BWV 1052, as well as two vocal works by Johann Christoph Bach. 

For early music aficionados, what makes this recording most interesting is that these works are performed on modern instruments – apart from the harpsichord, of course – with period-based nuances such as using a Baroque bow for the double bass, or a classical bow on a viola, added at the discretion of the performer. By making these decisions by ear, rather than adherence to convention and 20th-century tradition, the musicians tailored their sound to the overall interpretation, producing a result that is more forthcoming and strident than period instruments, but with the shapes and phrasings that listeners have come to expect. 

These interpretations portray Bach at his most dramatic and invigorating, with performances that are full of energy and joy. The Concerto for two violins is serious yet playful, abounding with communicativeness and ample musical dialogue between the soloists and orchestra. The Concerto for harpsichord, always serious, is imbued with a lightness and grace that keeps it from becoming funereal, but it is also played deliberately enough that it contains all the gravity demanded of it.

The vocal works by J.S. Bach’s older cousin Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) – not to be confused with J.S. Bach’s uncle, who had the same name and introduced J.S. to the organ, or J.S.’ eldest brother who also had the same name and mentored J.S. after his parents died – are beautiful in their simplicity, and a fine contrast to the density of Johann Sebastian’s musical vernacular. With two excellent performances of two of Bach’s finest concertos, this disc is not one to be overlooked, and is an excellent testament to the talent present at the Boulder Bach Festival.

04 Bach GenerationsBach Generations
Albrecht Mayer; Berliner Barock Solisten
Deutsche Grammophon 486 4183 (store.deutschegrammophon.com/p50-a157976/albrecht-mayer)

Curated by oboist, Albrecht Mayer, Bach Generations is the latest in a series of portrait albums featuring the Bach family. Beginning the incredible legacy, Johann Sebastian’s early musical influences began with his father who played the violin and extended to his father’s first cousin, composer Johann Christoph.  Johann Sebastian went on to become one of the most prolific composers of all time, teaching all ten* of his children music with four of them becoming notable composers. Each of these composer sons had their own style and relationship to their father’s music. This album showcases three generations of the Bach family with music by JS Bach’s uncle, Johann Christoph, Johann Sebastian himself as well as two of his sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach. 

Bach Generations opens with the JS’s Concerto for Oboe d’amore which is best known today as the Harpsichord Concerto No.4 in A Major. Following this beautiful work are transcriptions of concertos by Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich, a Badinerie and Air from Johann Sebastian’s Orchestral Suites Nos.2 and 3, as well as a Bach family favourite, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel’s Bist du bei mir. Concluding with Ach, dass ich Wassers g’nug hätte by Johann Christoph Bach, Mayer ties in the third generation of the Bach family legacy with this lovely transcription for English horn, solo violin, strings, and continuo.

Played with Berliner Barock Solisten in traditional Baroque style, Mayer elegantly performs these works on modern instruments. With his rounded tone, expressive playing and virtuosity on the oboe, oboe d’amore and English horn, he showcases the beauty of expression throughout the Bach generations.

05 Beethoven Concertos OhlssonThe Complete Beethoven Piano Concertos
Garrick Ohlsson; Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra; Sir Donald Runnicles
Reference Recordings FR-751SACD (gtmf.org/beethoven-piano-concertos-recording)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s five piano concertos are monumental contributions to the Western Art Music canon, providing an overview of musical evolution through masterful compositions that have remained in the core repertory for over two centuries. Always an innovator and disruptor of established trends, these works trace Beethoven’s progression from traditional forms to increasingly original ones. For example, Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto, the “Emperor” begins with a piano-centric cadenza at a time when it was customary for the orchestra to play a lengthy introduction. Although this seems like a mildly interesting break from convention in the 21st century, such re-inventions were edge-of-your-seat moments for Beethoven’s audience. 

Recorded during live performances at the 2022 Grand Teton Music Festival, located near Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain range, this complete set of Beethoven concertos features the festival’s orchestra conducted by the renowned Sir Donald Runnicles and pianist Garrick Ohlsson, a student of the late Claudio Arrau. This collection is decidedly level-headed, providing consistently reliable results, but also limiting the impact of climactic moments. These interpretations are charming, but perhaps lack the precipitousness and risk-taking that is required to turn them into something beautiful and breathtaking.

Despite its overall conservatism, there are some striking moments on this disc, including the glorious Adagio from the fifth concerto, in which the balance between winds and strings is notable, particularly for a live recording. Performing the complete set of Beethoven’s piano concertos is an expansive and impressive task, and this collection is well-suited for those seeking an all-encompassing survey of these magnificent works.

06 Helene GrimaudFor Clara
Hélène Grimaud; Konstantin Krimmel
Deutsche Grammophon (deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/helenegrimaud)

“Imagine, since my last letter I have again an entire volume of new things ready. I shall call it Kreisleriana. My music seems to me to be wonderfully entwined, for all its simplicity.” So wrote Robert Schumann to his wife Clara in April 1838 regarding the set of eight pieces which he named after a fictious character created by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Dedicating the collection to Chopin, it became one his most renowned compositions and is featured on this splendid DG recording titled For Clara together with the three Intermezzi Op.117 and the set of Lieder und Gesange Op.32 by Brahms performed by pianist Hélène Grimaud with baritone Konstantin Krimmel. 

The French-born pianist refers to Schumann as “the most literary of composers” and she returns to his music having previously recorded Kreisleriana in 2009 and the Piano Concerto in 2022. Not surprisingly, her performance is subline. The first, third and seventh in the set display a flawless technique while the neverending changes in mood throughout are treated with a stylish sensitivity.

The three Intermezzi by Brahms from 1892 are quietly introspective, each one of a deeply personal character. These autumnal works were among the last the composer wrote and Grimaud approaches the score with a delicate poignancy.

With their themes of loss and disillusionment, the set of nine Lieder und Gesange written in 1864 with texts by Georg Friedrich Daumer and August von Platen may seem a dark choice for these challenging times. Nevertheless, Grimaud and Krimmel are a formidable pairing, with Krimmel’s warm tone and fine diction together with Grimaud’s sympathetic partnership resulting in a most satisfying performance. Bravo to both artists – Robert, Clara and Johannes would all have been pleased!

07 Haochen Zhang LisztFranz Liszt – Transcendental Etudes
Haochen Zhang
BIS BIS-2681 (bis.se)

Liszt’s 12 Études d’exécution trancendante (or Transcendental Etudes) comprise perhaps the greatest documents of musical Romanticism, a high watermark in the history of the piano, amounting to nothing less than the creation of modern keyboard technique. That Haochen Zhang has even attempted these studies is a testament as much to his audacity as it is to the unbridled virtuosity that he displays in his performance of them. 

These studies teem with such outrageous difficulties that, in their day (1831) they were the most difficult works for the piano; even now there’s but a handful of pianists who can play them authoritatively. Lazar Berman’s (Melodiya, 1963), Boris Berezovsky’s (TELDEC, 1996) and Leslie Howard’s (Hyperion, 2016) have always been considered benchmark recordings. 

We must add Zhang’s exquisite recording to this short list. To play these works at all requires a formidable technique; to play them so as to convey their poetry rather than the effort required to play them is a gift afforded to very few. Clearly Zheng is one of those. 

Throughout the performance of the 12 studies Zheng displays technical prowess to deal with the pyrotechnics required of a stellar performance of the works. He rises above mere gratuitous display of pianism to reach a plateau of intense emotional conviction – especially in the first four etudes. Moreover, he also knows how to enter the introspective core of such pieces as the beautiful Ricordanza and Harmonies du soir.

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