Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker fairly attacks the piano. And we wouldn't expect anything less of him. He is a pianist of distinct personality, one who isn't afraid of pouring everything of himself into a piece, for better or for worse. Last time out, I found his piano transcription of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring one of my favorite albums of 2013, and I found these present performances of various fantasies for piano no less pleasurable.
First up on the "Fantasy" agenda is the Fantasie in C Major, D. 760, "Wanderer" by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). It's a four-movement affair that Schubert wrote in 1822. It's apparently so difficult to play that even the composer admitted he could not do it justice. Well, Parker does do it justice, and then some. While most other pianists in my experience play it rather sedately, Parker goes at it with vigor and virtuosic vitality. Still, he doesn't just bang away at the keys; he modulates the playing beautifully, going from softest to loudest passages with grace and élan. Parker catches the music's rhythmic thrust with enthusiasm, to be sure, yet he manages to convey its poetic qualities with equal confidence. The reading is riveting. I can't remember when this work so engrossed me.
Next is a somewhat unusual choice that only Parker would come up with, the Wizard of Oz Fantasy by William Hirtz, based on themes by Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart from the famous 1939 movie. Parker approaches the music with all the seriousness he would accord a classical piece, yet he captures the score's fun along the way. Hirtz wrote his little fantasy in 1999 for piano duet, and Parker asked the composer if he could arrange a solo version, which he plays here. Solo adaptation or no, it still sounds as though Parker is playing with four hands. The music is wonderful; more than a mere medley or pastiche, the score hangs together on its own, with unifying transitions smoothly drawn under Parker's guidance. As I say, fun stuff.
Then it's the Fantasia No. 3 in D minor, KV 397, by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791). He wrote it in 1782 but left it unfinished. Parker improvises an ending for it, so, as he says, if it's not to your liking, don't blame Mozart. Under Parker, the music floats as gently through the air as a summer breeze, the occasional stronger currents warmly communicated.
|Jon Kimura Parker|
Finally, the album ends with the Fantasie in C major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). It's one of Schumann's finest works for piano, a three-movement piece written in 1836, revised and published in 1839, and dedicated to Franz Liszt. Parker tells us his battered old copy of Schumann's score bears the words of his mentor: "Sentiment without sentimentality," "Proportion vs. freedom," and "Surge!" I like that last bit best because it clearly defines Parker's approach: he always appears to be surging ahead, whether it's dynamically, impulsively, sweetly, or lyrically. His cadences, tempos, inflections, pauses, contrasts, reflections, and rushes of emotion continuously move the work forward in a manner that seems as if it's the only way anyone could possibly want to take it. Yet few do. Remarkable work.
Again Parker scores with another favorite recording of the year for me.
Producer Aloysia Friedmann and engineer and editor Andy Bradley recorded the music at Stude Concert Hall, the Shepard School of Music, Rice University, Houston, Texas in September 2012 and August 2014. The piano sound is excellent, very big and robust to match Mr. Parker's playing style, while not so close that the instrument stretches all the way across the room. Transient response is very quick, with impact fast and clean. There's no hint of edginess, steeliness, or forwardness to the sound, either; it's all quite dynamic, natural, and lifelike, with a mild ambient resonance and moderate decay time to add to the effect.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: