Piano Potpourri No. 11 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Debussy: Études, L 143, Book 1 - Pour les cinq doigts (d'après Monsieur Czerny)Pour les tiercesPour les quartesè;Pour les sixtesPour les octavesPour les huit doigtsBook 2 - Pour les degrés chromatiquesPour les agréments;Pour les notes répétéesPour les sonorités opposéesPour les arpèges composesPour les accordsPour le piano, L 95 - I. PréludeII. SarabandeIII. ToccataLa plus que lente, L128Berceuse héroïque, L140Étude retrouvée. Steven Osborne, piano. Hyperion CDA68409

It was about a year ago that we reviewed a previous Hyperion release of the fine Scottish pianist Steven Osborne devoted to the music of Debussy (you can read that review here). In that previous review, we pointed out that for that release, Osborne had chosen to put together a program different from the usual program we often find in recordings of Debussy’s works for piano. Rather than highlight a major set of his works, such as the Études or Preludes, Osborne instead pulled together a program of pieces from throughout the French master’s career. A year later, we now have Osborne’s take on the Études; as it has been said, good things come to those who wait. Most music fans with more than a passing knowledge of the piano repertoire probably know that an étude is a study piece. The Merriam-Webster website offers two brief definitions: 1) a piece of music for the practice of a point of technique; and 2) a composition built on a technical motive but played for its artistic value. Osborne clearly has technique to burn – he is playing Debussy’s Études for their artistic value, and we the listening public are the beneficiaries. Osborne delivers this music with a beguiling blend of rhythmic energy and tonal shadings. As usual with Hyperion, his piano has been beautifully captured by the microphones and the liner notes are thorough and erudite. This is another first-class release from Hyperion.

Nitai Hershkovits: Call on the Old Wise. Hershkovits: The Old WiseEnough To Say I WillMode AntigonaOf Trust and RemorseIntermezzo No.3Majestic Steps Glow Far; Molly Drake: Dream Your Dreams; Hershkovits: Placid In AfricansqueMode Brilliante; Duke Ellington: Single Petal Of A Rose; Hershkovits: A Rooftop MinuetLate BlossomIntermezzo No.4In SatinThis You Mean To MeOf MentorshipFor SuzanRiver Wash Me. Nitai Hershkovits, piano. ECM 2779 551 5448


The Israeli pianist Nitai Hershkovits (b. 1988) is the son of a Moroccan mother and a Polish father. He originally started his musical studies on the clarinet before switching to the piano at age 15. Jazz and improvised music were the focal point of his musical interest throughout his teens, with a particularly strong interest in the music and techniques of jazz great Sonny Rollins, the ”Saxophone Colossus.” During this period, Hershkovits won several jazz competitions in the Tel Aviv area, before his deepened interest in classical music blossomed, leading him to study not only jazz nut also classical piano. you can hear evidence of both musical influences in Call in the Old Wise, his first solo piano recording on the ECM label, having most recently appeared as pianist with Oded Tzúr’s quartet on the ECM recordings Here Be Dragons (2020) and Isabela (2022). Hershkovits says of the album, “It’s like I’m playing with several periods of music at once, but in a sort of augmented-reality-environment. To me the album is like a journey taking you through multiple varying experiences in the blink of an eye. Like jumping through frames holding different pictures or looking through windows to different worlds.”

The music on Call on the Old Wise has for the most part a low-key, almost conversational feel to it. There is no banging on the keys, no breakneck tempi, no dissonant tone clusters. That said, the improvisatory nature of much of the music is always evident, but comes across to the listener more as directed and creative, a balanced combination of preparation and inspiration The album is partially dedicated to Hershkovits’s former piano teacher Suzan Cohen, the mentor to whom the term “wise” in the albums title alludes. The pieces The Old Wise, Of Mentorship, and For Suzan refer directly to her. But Hershkovits also draws from other influences, ranging from his work in jazz contexts and to his background in classical music. From track to track, the music varies, but never loses its listenable, playful, charming, quality. “I don’t want to be confined to any specific key or time signature, but rather leave the freedom to continually re-evaluate things in real-time and see them from a new perspective over and over again,” he explains, “that’s also why I tried to go into the session with as few preconceived ideas as possible.” He goes on to mentions inspirations as seemingly disparate as the late jazz piano jazz legend Chick Corea and Russian composers Rachmaninoff and Scriabin as prominent influences. You can get a brief sample of his low-key but inviting piano style in this brief video, which features an excerpt from the track Mode Brilliante. With no liner notes but beautiful ECM sound, Call on the Old Wise is an unexpected jewel of a piano recording.

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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 Jon 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 for 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 Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings 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 they 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 Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. 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 tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.

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

Contact Information

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Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa