The best new classical albums: Gramophone Editor's Choice, January 2021
Pianist Nicolas Namoradze proves himself an adept and inspired virtuoso in these unfamiliar York Bowen works – just the sort of project with which the superb Hyperion label so often enriches the catalogue.
Review by Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone, January 2021
I don’t know the genesis of this recording. Sometimes a label like Hyperion will find some interesting and/or unfamiliar repertoire and request or persuade an artist to record it; sometimes an artist will present the same interesting repertoire and ask if they may record it for the label. This one sounds very much like the latter.
The performances of these rarely heard works sound as if they have been in Nicolas Namoradze’s fingers for some time before his visit to the Wyastone Concert Hall (indeed, the Op 46 Studies opened the second half of his Wigmore Hall debut in 2018, an event that won him ecstatic reviews). So – a terrific pianist (Georgian by nationality, b1992) with all the colouristic and stylistic attributes one could wish for allied to a formidable technique, the kind of musician whose artistry is like a compelling novel where you can hardly wait for what comes next.
As to the music, listening to the 10 adorable Fragments from Hans Andersen (27'17" in total, the longest 4'22", the shortest 1'26"), I couldn’t help wondering why they should be almost entirely unknown when they have the musical substance and character of much-recorded cycles such as Debussy’s Préludes, albeit written in a different harmonic language (Bowen’s put one in mind of MacDowell and Grieg). I actually preferred Namoradze’s ‘Thumbelina’ over the composer’s 1926 recording, which he paired with the virtuoso ‘The Windmill’ (APR).
These miniature tone poems are followed by the two Concert Studies aptly described by Francis Pott in his first-rate booklet as exhibiting ‘a joyous blend of capricious high spirits with no-holds-barred virtuosity’. Namoradze duly obliges with performances that lovers of high-octane pianism will want to snap up. If Rachmaninov comes fleetingly to mind, it is Blumenfeld and Bortkiewicz, as Pott suggests, who are nearer comparisons.
Finally come the 12 (hostage to fortune!) Studies, Op 46, each one addressing a different aspect of technique spelt out, unlike their illustrious predecessors, in their titles: ‘For forearm rotation’, ‘For finger staccato’, ‘For various pedal effects’ and so forth. Do not let these prosaic headings deter you. Like Chopin’s two sets of Études, Bowen’s dozen manages to combine useful (and often extremely difficult) technical challenges dressed in music of poetic grace and drama. Superbly recorded and performed with such distinction, this release must be an early Awards nominee.