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Takemitsu, Szymanowski, Chopin, Serocki / Miyako Arishima

Release Date: 09/06/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30118
Composer:  Toru Takemitsu ,  Karol Szymanowski ,  Frédéric Chopin ,  Kazimierz Serocki Performer:  Miyako Arishima

For her debut recording, Miyako Arishima offers a combination of two very distant worlds: the Romantic embodied by the music of Chopin and the twentieth-century, represented by the work of Karol Szymanowski, Kaziemierz Serocki and Arishima’s compatriot Toru Takemitsu.

Album Credits:
Recorded March 5 - 6, 2019 at the Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of the Polish Radio, Warsaw.
Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Co-Producer: Olivier Berggruen
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford

Recording Producers: Andrzej Sasin, Aleksandra Nagórko
Editing/Mastering: Andrzej Sasin, Aleksandra Nagórko
Cover Photo/Design: Aleksandra Mleczko
Read more Technician: Arimune Yamamoto
Piano: Steinway Model D #572795 (Hamburg)

This disc has nearly all the qualities I look for in a debut recital: a fine blend of venerable and unfamiliar repertoire; a clear, confident musical personality; and considerable thoughtfulness in interpretation. Unimpeachable technique goes without saying, and Miyako Arishima certainly has that as well. I suspect that the eclectic mix of composers will impede rather than accelerate sales, and some of the repertoire does live together rather uneasily. Pairing a set of Chopin mazurkas with Szymanowski’s introspective, delicate final dyad of mazurkas is a very fine choice; likewise, the sensuality in Chopin’s Barcarolle and in Szymanowski’s Nausicaa are reciprocally illuminating. One can even find a certain resonance between the crystalline treble sonorities of much of Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch and Szymanowski’s later tonal palette. But Chopin’s airy Fourth Scherzo is an outlier on this program, as is the Suite of Preludes by Kazimierz Serocki. Were this an all-Polish program, Serocki would be an ideal fit as a compelling and rarely programmed compatriot of Chopin and Szymanowski. But that is not a sufficient link in a program that also includes Takemitsu. There’s of course nothing wrong with a varied, interesting recital program, but a multi-composer disc by a brand-new recording artist is apt to be overlooked unless there is something irresistible about the programming. And that would be a shame, because this is a very nicely played recital, and Miyako Arishima deserves a substantial audience.

Arishima’s broad range of pianistic color is apparent from the outset of the recital. In comparison to Peter Serkin’s performance of Rain Tree Sketch, Arishima’s is more improvisatory and more vivid; whereas Serkin creates an atmospheric, pastel spaciousness, Arishima provides bursts of brilliance within the overall peacefulness. The more agitated passages in the piece achieve a bracing clangorousness without becoming strident. Similarly, Arishima relishes the bright bitonality of Nausicaa’s opening measures while maintaining a naïve, folkish quality in her presentation of the melody. And her articulation ranges from the delicate sparkle of gossamer filigree to the welter of thick dissonances that punctuate the piece’s climax. The melody could occasionally be placed in bolder relief here, but Arishima’s overall presentation of the piece is highly effective, as is her approach to the mazurkas of both Szymanowski and Chopin. Her tempo for Chopin’s Mazurka in G# Minor is slower than most; the result is that it sounds intensely sad (as its tempo marking suggests it should), though the lilt that Arishima brings to its more rhythmic passages keeps it firmly in the mazurka dance form. Her rubato throughout the Chopin mazurka set is very generous; she rarely plays two quarter notes at the same speed in the Mazurka in C Major (and this is a very good thing). I only wish that her Mazurka in D Major had more pronounced, stomping accents, as in Malcuzynski’s performance. Her performance of Szymanowski’s mazurkas is conversational and full of perfumed Impressionism, though not quite as delicate or as urgently forward-moving in the first of the set as in Szymanowski’s own performance.

Arishima brings a lovely combination of thoughtfulness and languor to Chopin’s Barcarolle. It is, again, just a bit slower than many performances: enough to allow the listener to luxuriate in the piece’s rich harmonies but not so much as to lose the piece’s drive. And Arishima has plenty of virtuosic drive in Chopin’s Scherzo. However, here I find her tempo in the lyrical central section to be too slow, causing the section to seem overly drawn out and repetitious.

The least familiar piece on this disc to most listeners will be Kazimierz Serocki’s Suite of Preludes, written in 1952. It is an eminently listenable exploration of 12-tone techniques that makes great use of transparent textures, motoric rhythms, and atmospheric sonorities. The Second Prelude suggests a languid blues that occasionally becomes frantic; the Fourth weaves a sustained melodic line within a texture of slowly rising arpeggios; the Fifth is a perpetual-motion feat of dazzling fingerwork; and the final prelude grows dramatically from low-bass grumbles to wide-ranging arpeggios like a modern take on Chopin’s “Ocean” Étude. This cycle was a very pleasing discovery for me, and Arishima plays it with utmost confidence.

I’ll be eager to hear Miyako Arishima’s future work.

  -- Myron Silberstein, Fanfare

This is the debut release from pianist Miyako Arishima, who was trained in Japan and Poland. The program is unique. It opens with a short work by Toru Takemitsu, a sort of announcement of the pianist's background, but the rest of the program is Polish, containing works by Chopin, Szymanowski, and Kazimierz Serocki, a familiar figure in Poland but little heard in the U.S., where this album was released. These are temporally and stylistically diverse composers, but Arishima emphasizes the links between them, and the program flows naturally among them. She finds not only the Romantic pianism in the music of Szymanowski and Serocki but also the modernism in Chopin, and the latter is perhaps where Arishima is most striking. Sample the Mazurka in B minor, Op. 33, No. 4, and hear her edgy, percussive way with the music. She uses the pedal only lightly in Chopin, whose music she might perhaps play differently in a different context. Here though, her Chopin style contributes to a discourse that is lively and persuasive and is part of a larger general revival of 20th century Polish music. Steinway & Sons departed here from its usual New York haunts to record at the Lutoslawski Concert Studio at Polish Radio in Warsaw, and the results are impressively clean. Highly recommended.


Miyako Arishima is an outstanding young pianist whose debut album presents a bold and unusual program: a brief piece by the great 20th-century composer Toru Takemitsu (Rain Tree Sketch) followed by various works by Polish composers both famous (Frédéric Chopin, Karl Szymanowski) and obscure (Kazimierz Serocki). Chopin occupies the center of the program, in terms of both placement and allocated space; his Barcarolle in F sharp, his Mazurkas Op. 33 and his E-major Scherzo Op. 54 are surrounded by the Takemitsu piece, a selection from Szymanowski’s Métopes Op. 29, his Two Mazurkas Op. 62, and Serocki’s quirky and bracing Suite of Preludes. What unites the program is a sense of formal openness and expressionism (both of which are notable and paradoxical characteristics of Serocki’s duodecaphonically-inclined preludes), and of course the sparkling brilliance of Arishima’s playing. Recommended to all classical collections.

-- Rick Anderson, CD Hotlist

Miyako Arishima (b 1992) studied piano first in Tokyo but later in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and apparently is still active in that country. This explains her interesting program of works by Polish composers, the one exception (Takemitsu) presumably included to remind us of her origin. Here the 20th Century compositions frame the Chopin pieces. To start with the latter, the performances are very good though not outstanding. Arishima clearly has absorbed the composer’s style, and her playing is very clean and technically assured. For direct comparison I listened to three recordings from the 2010 Chopin Competition: Evgeny Bozhanov (Barcarolle, 4th Prize), Marcin Koziak (Mazurkas, not a finalist), and Ingolf Wunder (Scherzo, shared 2nd Prize). Arishima is not as subtle as Bozhanov but also lacks his affectations. Her Mazurkas are idiomatic but notably slower than Koziak’s (a Pole). I prefer them faster, the way Rubinstein also plays them, but they suffer little damage when slowed down. In the Scherzo, Arishima is not quite as elegant as Wunder and rather slow in the middle section. Her phrase endings are sometimes not quite convincing, and when there is a repeated rhythm she has a tendency to lengthen the last beat of each bar, which inhibits the smooth flow (also in the Barcarolle). Incidentally, Arishima played in the 2015 Chopin Competition but did not make it beyond the first round. Her Chopin, while competent, is not the main reason for getting this. The other works, where there is much less competition from other recordings, are rendered with the same clarity and thoughtfulness, though again some tempos are slow. In her hands the short Takemitsu piece is about one minute longer than in Peter Serkin’s authoritative rendition (RCA 68595, M/A 1997), and her two late Szymanowski Mazurkas are slower than three other recordings I have. I have none of Szymanowski’s three Metopes, Op. 29, of which ‘Nausicaa’ is the last, so I did not make a comparison. Nevertheless, Arishima’s sensitive interpretations of these interesting works are as rewarding as the faster ones I listened to. The rarest item is the Suite of Preludes by Kazimierz Serocki (1922-81). There are seven pieces. The idiom is moderately dissonant and, the booklet tells me, influenced by 12- tone theory. The faster ones (1, 3, 5, 6) are motive, etude-like, and not particularly engaging; nor is 4, which consists of quiet arpeggios. The best are the highly expressive 2, an earlier non-dodecaphonic composition, and the turbulent 7, which might have been called Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Est.

The cleverly chosen program, together with the very accomplished playing, makes this release commendable. There are thematic links between the watery Takemitsu piece and Chopin’s Barcarolle, between the two sets of Mazurkas, and (though probably only in my devious mind) between Nausicaa, a lady of Greek mythology who inspired a Japanese manga called ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’, and Serocki’s stormy final prelude. Photographs of the pianist on the cover and in the booklet suggest a calm and introverted, perhaps even melancholy person, consistent with her unpretentious but serious artistry that I somehow found very appealing. The excellent liner notes are in English, Polish, and Japanese. Two minor complaints: The speckled background of the text pages interferes with the reading of the rather small print, and the artist biography might have been a bit longer—usually I wish the opposite!

-- Bruno Repp, American Record Guide Read less