Hirota Believes That Small is Beautiful

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what a performanceSMALL IS BEAUTIFUL / SCHOENBERG: 6 Kleine Klavierstücke. KRENEK: 8 Piano Pieces. LIGETI: Invention. BERIO: Erdenklaver. Brin. Leaf. CARTER: 90+. Retrouvailles. BECKWITH: The Music Room. MATHER: Fantasy. CHERNEY: Elegy for a Misty Afternoon. WEINZWEIG: Canon Stride. CARASTATHIS: Traces. KULESHA: 2 Pieces for Piano. LEMAY: 6 Ushtebis. Tanze vor Angst…Hommage à Paul Klee / Yoko Hirota, pno / Navona NV6294

Yoko Hirota is a Japanese-born pianist who now works and teaches at Laurentian University in Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. A champion of modern music, she was inspired in this direction by Canadian pianist and pedagogue Louis-Philippe Pelletier, and this penchant of hers manifests itself in this interesting recital of piano miniatures.

She begins her recital with the fascinating 6 Kleine Klavierstücke of Schoenberg, one of his earliest 12-tone suites, and immediately one is aware of a highly intelligent and committed artist. Not only is small “beautiful” to Hirota, it is also not to be undervalued. She gives each piece and each phrase within each piece her full attention, carefully crafting the music in her own manner. Not for her a completely abstract rendition of modern music; she realizes that these pieces were written by flesh-and-blood human beings who wanted their music to move people, not just stun them with their harmonic and structural daring. As a result, she really communicates when she plays. In this respect, she is a throwback to such pianists of the past as Cortot, Fischer, Cliburn and Lewenthal, even though those musicians played little or nothing beyond the era of Ravel and Debussy.

Following Schoenberg, Hirota digests the surprisingly modernistic 8 Pieces of Ernst Krenek in a similar fashion. Ditto Ligeti’s Invention, the three pieces by Berio and especially Elliott Carter’s music. Never a fan of his scores, I well believed the comment by one associate (who shall remain nameless) who said that “I don’t think even Elliott likes his own music,” but Hirota not only likes it, she almost makes you like it, too by infusing a sense of lyricism into his abstract excursions.

After having gone through five well-known composers, Hirota continues by playing the music of modern Canadians: John Beckwith, Bruce Mather, Brian Cherney, John Weinzweig, Aris Carasthasis, Gary Kulesha and Robert Lemay, the latter a fellow professor at Laurentian University. Most (but not all) of their music is very much in the serial style, sounding like their forebears in Europe and America without really having a strong individual personality though it is all interesting. I especially liked Mather’s Fantasy, which showed good imagination, and Cherney’s Elegy for a Misty Afternoon has a very interesting structure. Weinzweig’s Canon Stride is almost a third stream piece, using the basic principles of stride piano within the context of a 12-tone classical piece…shades of Erwin Schulhoff! And interestingly, Carasthasis’ Traces also contain some very clear jazz references. These two pieces, too, are atonal but not really serial.

This is clearly an excellent album, one of the best of the year.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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