Classical CD Reviews

Orion Weiss = BACH: French Overture in b, BWV 831; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 5 in F-sharp, Op. 53; MOZART: Variations on “Salve tu, Domine” by Paisiello, K. 398; ELLIOTT CARTER: Piano Sonata – Orion Weiss, piano – Yarlung

A winner on all fronts, this debut disc displays the talents of Weiss with admirable breadth.

Published on July 9, 2013

Orion Weiss = BACH: French Overture in b, BWV 831; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 5 in F-sharp, Op. 53; MOZART: Variations on “Salve tu, Domine” by Paisiello, K. 398; ELLIOTT CARTER: Piano Sonata – Orion Weiss, piano – Yarlung Records gold CD 78873, 74:23 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Midwesterner Orion Weiss is an Iowa native who ended up at the Interlochen Arts Camp in 1991, and got his BM degree from Juilliard, studying with Emanuel Ax. In February 1999, Weiss made his Cleveland Orchestra debut performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. With less than 24 hours’ notice, Weiss replaced André Watts for a performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in March of 1999. He was invited back to the orchestra for a performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in October 1999. Since then his career has been on a steady ascent.

This recording, though touted as a “debut” is actually the second recording he has made, but I’ll take it. The first was a duo album with cello, and he has gone on to record two albums since. He is quite fortunate to have enlisted the services of Recording Engineer Bob Attiyeh and his team, as this is one of the most natural-sounding piano recordings I have heard. I am still a proponent of surround sound for piano and small ensembles, but Yarlung has achieved something quite special here, and they make sure in the booklet notes to credit the involvement of Weiss also as critical to the process. They used two matched Neumann U-47 microphones with the original vacuum tubes, considered by many to be the premiere microphones in the history of the industry. And of course the placement of the mics is critical, which is why they spent seven hours getting just the right angles, so to speak. The result is a close, breathable, and analog softness with digital clarity.

But as in every other recording, the music’s the thing, and if the performances are bad it doesn’t really matter—just a great recording of a lousy rendition. Not the case here—Weiss’s performances are every bit the equal of the superlative recordings they enjoy. His Bach is crisp, elemental, and tonally opulent, which is a nice change from a lot of the Bach-on-piano that one hears these days. The Scriabin was unexpected after the Bach—a true Jekyll and Hyde release as Weiss pours through the work with passion and an unequalled sense of impressionistic dynamism, which is perfect for this piece.

We get a break with Mozart’s lovely but far from simple variations. Weiss shows an amazing ability to adapt to the stylistic needs of each work without overwhelming them with his own personality. Not that these performances are devoid of such, but too often we hear the pianist with the composer subservient—that is never the case on this CD. And the best is last—Elliott Carter’s Piano Sonata is a modern classic—not to the point of his later more esoteric works from the 1970s, but full of energy, tunefulness—yes, you heard me right—and some of the most gorgeous slow writing for the instrument you will ever come across.

So yes, I recommend this wholeheartedly, and with some urgency. Riveting pianism coupled with extraordinary technology makes for a very engrossing 74 minutes.

—Steven Ritter




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