Written by Nicholas Young, 26 February 2015
It’s difficult to choose a single recording when we are spoilt with such a wealth of amazing recordings over the past century, but one in particular holds a special place in my heart. It is a CD by British pianist Joanna MacGregor entitled Play, released by Enja Records (ENJ-9438). The first thing that strikes you about the recording is its selection of repertoire – no standard, classic major works to be found here, but rather, 15 pieces by 15 different composers, none over 8 minutes in length, stretching a mind-bogglingly wide time spectrum from the Renaissance through to the very present (including a composition by the pianist herself). This selection, along with the highly fragmented, full-colour sleeve notes with pictures, clearly indicates a deliberate departure from the traditional presentation of classical music, perhaps approaching something more ‘indie’ – very much in the spirit of MacGregor’s own boldly individual artistic image.
When Piazzolla, Ligeti, Cage, Ives and Bach all appear on the same page, you know you’re in for a weird and wonderful journey! Not only the composers, but the forms of media are mixed, from standard solo piano miniatures and live recordings of jazz collaborations, to electro-acoustic music first presented for multimedia tours. Some of the music is not even originally intended for performance by pianists (Nancarrow’s Player Piano Study No. 11 and Dowland’s Forlorn Hope Fancy, for instance)! The first impression of the contents is undoubtedly confronting, and one could be forgiven for feeling slightly dubious. But as soon as you listen, any doubts immediately disappear. Whether in the ultra-modern or the Baroque, the playing is, simply, exceptional. MacGregor manages to weave in and out of different musical styles without ever losing credibility, and she has the fingers to play virtuosically and sensitively, when either or both are demanded by the music.
This CD has been nothing less than a revelation and inspiration for me. Its advocacy of the new and unfamiliar, and the sheer boldness of conception, is something which I always kept in mind when deciding on the repertoire of my recently-released debut CD, Capricornia: Agnew, Busoni, Carter, which explores Australian, German and American music of the early 20th century. I am still a great lover of the ‘standard’ classical CD and the recording of esteemed, large-scale masterpieces, but Play has shown me the great possibilities that are out there for those who choose to explore, test and stretch the boundaries of our listening expectations, and I hope that I can be as similarly diverse in my own music-making in the years to come.
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Currently based in Salzburg, Australia, Nicholas Young was born in Sydney, Australia. With a passion for both classical and modern piano performance, Nicholas is emerging as one of Australia’s most versatile young musicians.
In February 2015, Nicholas performed several solo concerts in Victoria and New South Wales coinciding with the release of his CD ‘Capricornia’.
Read more about Nicholas here
Nicholas Young performing Bartok Piano Concerto No. 2 with Queensland Symphony Orchestra here