Excursions, Op. 20; Piano Sonata, Op. 26; Ballade, Op. .46; Souvenirs, Op. 28; Nocturne, Op. 33
Yeseul Moon (piano)
MDG MDG9042177 (SACD) 66:42 mins
Other albums of Samuel Barber’s piano output contain more music. With a running time only three minutes longer, Leon McCawley in 2010 managed to find room for five early flights (two Interludes, three Sketches), given no opus numbers, yet all worth hearing. The statistic may underline the relative slowness of some of Yeseul Moon’s speeds. It reveals nothing about the superior quality of this South Korean pianist’s playing, or the depth of her engagement with the varied moods of an American composer today’s musical world too often takes for granted.
There may be only one ‘major statement’ here: the Sonata of 1947-49, dedicated to Vladimir Horowitz. But it’s of granite strength, and Yeseul Moon’s fingers are fully equal to navigating the work’s sometimes furious demands, not least the concluding four-part fugue. She equally excels in pensive poetry, lovingly drawn out of the Chopinesque Nocturne (Homage to John Field)and brushed against in the lonely, bleaker world of his final piano piece, the 1977 Ballade.
The remaining pieces, the Excursions and Souvenirs, both revisit popular dance and music styles, from boogie woogie and tango to hoedown, while moving far beyond simple imitation. Heard in its original four-hand version, the Souvenirs are dispatched with tremendous sparkle, with Yeseul and her piano teacher Hardy Rittner clearly simpatico, thinking and feeling as one. The final delight of this album is the recording’s clarity and friendly bounce, the ideal ambience for a pianist and repertoire that together combine immediate pleasure with music-making of genuine substance.