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Cuban Piano Music / Alexandre Moutouzkine

Release Date: 01/20/2017
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30064
Composer:  Tomás Buelta y Flores ,  Ernán López-Nussa ,  César Perez Sentenat ,  Enrique Guerrero  ...  Performer:  Alexandre Moutouzkine

Russian pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine astounds with a virtuosic program of technically demanding and effusively vibrant Cuban music spanning the past two centuries.

Album Credits:
Recorded January 15 and June 14, 2016 at Steinway Hall, New York City
Producer: Jon Feidner
Engineer: Lauren Sturm
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores
Editing: Robert Hillinck

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Piano Technicians: Glen Bingham, Lauren Sturm
Piano: Steinway Model D #597590 (New York)

The Russian-American pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine was introduced to
Read more Cuban music by his Cuban-born, New York teacher Solomon Mikowsky, took the inspiration and ran with it, and has produced an album of fascinating music by composers who, except perhaps for Léo Brouwer, are almost unknown outside of Cuba. The big name, Ernesto Lecuona, is omitted. The pieces are all short, and they're in various styles, but without exception they combine elements of vernacular and concert music. This is true even of the tiny, early 19th century La Valentina of Tomás Buelta y Flores, and the variety of possible combinations increased exponentially as time went by. You could dip in anywhere, but try the Zapatéo Cubano of Héctor Angulo (born 1932) for a taste of how deftly these composers manipulate their popular music heritage. The Zapatéo is apparently a Cuban relative of the Spanish and Mexican Zapeateado tap dance (a slightly more detailed set of booklet notes would have been desirable with music this obscure), but here the dance rhythms are slightly displaced from their normal configuration, and rhythmic and tonal tensions are introduced. Moutouzkine's performance benefits from fine sound, captured by Steinway engineers at the label's namesake Steinway Hall in New York. A real winner, of interest far beyond the circle of Latin American classical music fans.

-- AllMusic Guide

Whether tackling classical repertoire or not, this Russian pianist takes a dive into the deep end of Cuban classical piano works by composers generally residing off the beaten path. A solo set by a player that needs no augmentation, for those not in the know, this set, taken as a whole, sounds like a diverse recital with sure hands on the wheel. A player for many pleasant Sunday afternoons to come, this set is a real, unexpected treat that tickles the ears with just the right touch. Well done throughout.

-- MidWest Record

Here we have yet another fascinating recital of lively and diverse piano music from South America. In this case, the program is made up of 18 short pieces by 17 composers from Cuba, bookended by the oldest, Tomás Buelta y Flores (1791-1844) and the youngest, Aldo Lopez-Gavilan (b. 1979). Most of the works are from the 20th century, and nearly all these display at least a tinge of Modernism in their harmonies, as well as the expected syncopations of Cuban dance music. The most familiar name here is Leo Brouwer (b. 1939), whose guitar concertos have been recorded many times (though, unfortunately, not all of them). Strangely enough the best-known Cuban composer of piano music, Ernesto Lecuona, is not included; but do we need another Malaguena? The musical rewards of this program are many, not least being the dynamic pianism of Russian-American pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine (a Van Cliburn winner, amongst several other accolades). For performance, repertoire interest, and recording quality, this release proves to be another winner in Steinway and Sons' series of piano discs.

The works, despite their common characteristics, are nicely varied;more so than would be the case with a single composer. Mulato by Amadeo Roldán (1900-1939) must logically be a late work of this short-lived composer, as the influence of Bartok dictates his percussive approach to the keyboard. Others are Impressionistic, bringing Ravelian textures to bear on Cuban sources, as in the sprightly Concert Study by Juan Piñera (b. 1949). Leo Brouwer (b. 1939) creates an atmospheric soundscape in his Boceto (or Sketch) No. 4, inspired by the work of the Cuban Surrealist painter Acosta León. It is a placid, limpid piece with an agitated central section, sensitively played. Moutouzkine is idiomatic in the more rhythmically orientated pieces too, providing a suitably dry staccato in the scherzo-like Zapatéo Cubano by Hector Agulo (b. 1932). (The Cuban zapateo is a distinctive dance with antecedents in Spanish flamenco.) Agulo makes considerable use of an arpeggiated triplet figure identical to the one in Huapango by the Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo. Both Agulo's dance and the Prelude No. 6 by Edgardo Martin Cantero(1915 - 2004) quote a little tune I have heard in some other piece of music, possibly a traditional song, but I am in the frustrating position of not being able to identify it. (The notes with this release are scant concerning the composers and individual works.) Either of these pieces would make a charming encore in a recital, as neither lasts over two minutes.

A more substantive work is Juan Piñera;s Y el brillo de la luna te encantaba (And the moon's brightness bewitched you), a tone poem almost Lisztian in its grandeur. Appropriately, the final selection is a tour de force toccata: Lopez-Gavilan's Pan con Timba. Pan con Timba literally means bread with guava, but is synonymous for any kind of cheap food, and also refers specifically to a poor neighborhood in Havana. The infectious, repetitive dance rhythms and virtuoso decorations conjure up a picture of spirited local celebrations.

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all this unfamiliar music in Moutouzkine's expert readings. His disc is highly recommended.

-- Fanfare

"The young Russian competition winner and former Astral Artist Moutouzkine showcases a surprising variety of rhythms and complex harmonies in these 18 short works by mainly 20th and 21st century Cuban composers. An enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable recording."

-- WRTI 90.1

This seems to be the debut disc for Russian-American pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine, whose boyish appearance belies decades of study (he is now teaching at the Manhattan School of Music). It includes 18 bonbons by 17 Cuban composers, about half still living, the shortest 40 seconds and the longest 6-1/2 minutes. Most will not even be names to the best informed listener, so if you pride yourself on your hipness, this will be an introduction to another universe. Two of the works particularly stood out for me; the evocative Habanera del Angel by José Maria Vitier (b. 1954) and the driving, jazzy, compelling Pan con Timba by Aldo Lopez Gavilan (b. 1979). (Gavilan has just started making a name for himself in the USA; he combines compositional chops with an amazing touch at the keyboard.) But all of the selections are worth getting to know. A fine anthology for musicologists, collectors, and piano lovers.

-- American Record Guide

A small example of the unknown solo piano repertoire of Cuba, a world of rich, complex harmonies, percussive statements, and swirls of imagination. Many of these rarely heard works have never before been recorded. As the pianist here puts it, every new Cuban composer whom I have come across has presented a feast of musical discovery. Roldan and Caturla create lush harmonies that are disparate and unique, yet work together in flawless layers. Roberto Valera's witty, captivating mind and masterfuk craft radiates with depth and dimension. The breathtaking delicacy and charm of Leo Brouwer is mesmerizing. Then there is the absolutely enchanting world of Juan Piñera. Thankfully, the list goes on and on.

-- Records International

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