Nicolas McCarthy: Solo

The one-handed pianist, as seen on TV.

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bellini,Blumenfeld,Chopin,Einaudi,Gershwin,Liszt,Mascagni,Puccini,R Strauss & Wild,Rachmaninov,Scriabin
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Nicolas McCarthy: Solo
WORKS: Solo: works by Bellini, Blumenfeld, Chopin, Einaudi, Gershwin, Liszt, Mascagni, Puccini, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, R Strauss & Wild
PERFORMER: Nicholas McCarthy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564605240

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If you want to be a pianist, but you only have one hand, it is probably best to have the left one. The left-hand repertoire is surprisingly strong, in part thanks to Paul Wittgenstein, the pianist who lost his right arm in the First World War and then commissioned left-hand-only concertos and more from Prokofiev, Strauss, Ravel and others. But besides this, through the 19th and early 20th centuries some of the finest virtuoso pianist-composers had sought ways to bolster left-hand technique by creating etudes, arrangements and short concert works for it alone. This provides the one-armed pianist Nicholas McCarthy with more than enough meat for his debut album.

It’s an eclectic mix. There is a handful of fine solo works – for instance, Scriabin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, Blumenfeld’s Etude in A flat Op. 36 and a new, very attractive Nocturne commissioned from Nigel Hess especially for this recording. McCarthy also tackles some of Godowsky’s fiendish rethinks of Chopin Etudes, several arrangements of Italian opera arias, a rather beautiful take on Strauss’s song Morgen by Jonathan Mann, an opening track by Einaudi and arrangements that he himself has made.

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McCarthy offers good, solid, forthright interpretations, especially of the works that appear in their original form. It is an excellent opportunity to celebrate this unusual corner of piano repertoire. But where this CD wins most is in its symbolism: an unlikely candidate for piano stardom overcomes a massive obstacle and fulfils his dream despite everything. That can do more than offer pleasant listening; it can be an example and an inspiration. Jessica Duchen