Fantasy (CD review)

Piano fantasies of Schubert, Hirtz, Mozart, Di Liberto, and Schumann. Jon Kimura Parker, piano. FP 0908.

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
The penultimate work is the Fantasy on the Cavalleria Rusticana, Italian pianist Calogero Di Liberto's (b. 1973) take on music from Pietro Mascagni's opera. Di Liberto wrote the piece in 2005 while completing his doctoral studies in Parker's piano studio at Rice University, where Parker is a Professor of Piano. The music is familiar and theatrical, and Parker makes the most of its operatic, almost melodramatic qualities. Nevertheless, it's Parker's handling of the music's quieter moments that catches one's attention; it's quite lovely.

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:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa