Yasmin Rowe’s Maiden Voyage on CD

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J.S. BACH: Partita No. 2 in C min. CHOPIN: Nocturnes: in C# min., Op. post; in C min., Op. 48 No. 1. Étude in C# min., Op. 25 No. 7. Ballade No. 4 in F min. JANÁČEK: Sonata “I.X. 1905, From the Street.” KAPUSTIN: Concert Étude in B-flat, Op. 40 No. 6, “Pastorale” / Yasmin Rowe, pn / Willowhayne WHR039

This is the debut CD of British pianist Yasmin Rowe, a real “live wire” if there ever was one. A pupil of Bernard Roberts and Murray McLachlan at the Chetham School of Music and of McLachlan and Stephen Savage at the Royal Northern School of Music, she made her BBC 3 radio debut in 2014 as the pianist in a performance of Vaughan Williams’ song cycle On Wenlock Edge. She has since appeared as soloist at Wigmore Hall and St. John’s, as well as playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 with the Manchester Camerata.

As one can tell from the program, Rowe enjoys eclectic recitals contrasting different styles of music from different eras. The odd man out here would appear to be Chopin, “the poet of the piano,” whose music is generally played in a way that evokes limpid pools of water in the moonlight, whereas the music of Bach, Janáček and Kapustin evoke anything but. Rowe’s Bach playing is in the tradition of Glenn Gould, brisk and using no pedal effects to muddy the waters, with an eye to the music’s structure. This works splendidly in the second partita, which she makes her own via a slight feeling of syncopation which she introduces into each of its movements. I found this performance completely captivating; I could listen to Bach played like this all day. I especially loved the way she played the “Rondeau,” with a lilt and swagger I’ve never heard before.

Now on to Chopin. My regular readers know I am generally averse to soft, goopy performances of his music, except for a little bit of “romance” in the nocturnes. Fortunately Rowe, like her countryman Ian Hobson, takes a much more wide-awake view of Chopin, meaning that the focus is on the music’s structure and forward momentum, using only light rubato touches as it goes along. This, for me, makes the music far more palatable, although I think her performance of the CT minor Nocturne could have used just a touch more softness (but certainly not much slower in tempo). The same aesthetic applies to her playing of the Étude in the same key as well as the C minor nocturne, but I was most interested to hear what she could do with the Ballade No. 4. My gold standard in this music is Alfred Cortot, who in my view had it all: a great touch, a warm sound, and structural integrity. Rowe matches his sense of structure, but her “cool” touch at the keyboard falls a bit short of Cortot’s.

After nearly a half-hour of Chopin, Janáček’s sonata comes in like a breath of fresh air, and Rowe is fully in command of her material. A bit more breadth in the phrasing would have been welcome, however. We end our listening with the sprightly, syncopated “concert étude” of Kapustin, a fun ending to an interesting musical journey.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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