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Prokofiev & Zaborov / Jenny Lin

Release Date: 04/21/2017
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30055
Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev ,  Kyrill Zaborov Performer:  Jenny Lin

In a Russia still bathing in nostalgia for Chekhov’s novellas and the twilight romanticism of Tchaikovsky, the appearance on the musical scene of Sergei Prokofiev was a major artistic turning point. In the context of early 20th c. complacency, his music was soon to overturn many an article of faith. And in its stylistic expression, my own music is partially inspired by 20th c. Russian tradition, a legacy whose spiritual depth constantly nourishes my imagination with crucial aspects of its mysterious essence.

— Kirill Zaborov

Album Credits:
Recorded November 10-12, 2015 at Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer/Editing: David Angell
Read more Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores

Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Cover Painting: Piano, Justyna Kopania
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)
Piano Technician: John Veitch

If, like me, you have never heard Jenny Lin live, you could become an instant fan based on her latest Steinway & Sons recording, “Prokofiev & Zaborov.” Aside from her stellar technical artistry, she seems to have a unique understanding of the character of the music she is playing. Lin’s intriguing selections of rare piano pieces vary from a very young Prokofiev and his piano transcriptions of scenes from the Cinderella ballet score paired with new works from classical/jazz/improv composer Kirill Zaborov. Zaborov has collaborated with Lin in the past and cites her recording of Igor Stravinsky’s piano works as “opening me up to aspects of the composer of which I was unaware and profoundly transforming my view of his music.”

Lin’s interpretive artistry evokes the story, from the entre “Waltz” (Cinderella and Prince) of Cinderella to narrative scenes, “The Quarrel”, “Pas de châle” and “Amoroso.” Few ballets scores can be realized on solo piano with the dimensions that one experiences in a soundtrack propelling dancers in a full production story ballet with orchestra detailing. Yet, it is fascinating, and, in this case, thrilling to hear what Lin brings to it as a soloist.

The ballet was started in 1940, but Prokofiev did not premiere it until 1945. Instead, Prokofiev was finishing his more politically timely opera version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The Stalin regime was breathing down his neck to make it more nationalistic and Soviet, void of anything deemed as individual free expression.

In his book The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross writes, “Prokofiev, no less than Shostakovich, wished to map his country's destiny in sound.” Prokofiev would write that he viewed Cinderella as a humanist story. Cinderella after all was living in bondage at the mercies of her cruel stepmother and sisters. This provided him with a serviceable cover, to orchestrally tell a fairy story with subversive subtext which conveys a universal story of one’s liberation from oppression. Cinderella has both tragic and comic moments built in with ironic gaiety as the clock ticks down to midnight, and Lin conjures the glittering musical scene and its darkest shadows.

The other Russian composer artistically and personally surviving somehow under the Stalin regime was Shostakovich, and Kirill Zaborov pays homage with his Nine Variations on the theme by Dmitri Shostakovich. Zaborov writes laces in many Russian musical traditions in his music, and he contemplates what he observes as “mysterious essence” of Russian music. In the Variations he takes inspiration from a theme Shostakovich composed in 1932 for the song, “Pesnia o vstrechnom”, a hymn that “reverberates in the hearts of Russians” which was written by Boris Kornilov, Zaborov’s maternal grandfather.

In contrast, Zaborov describes his Variations for Piano “Quattrocento” as “fluid arabesques, whether ephemeral adagios or passionate outbursts” which was inspired by a trip to Florence. Lin ignites these vivid piano studies, contrasting moods of lightness in an Allegro vivace to the shadowy Lento espressivo.

Dix Apparitions are Zaborov miniatures all under two minutes. Some strike as virtuosic studies of counterpoint while others have an improvisational quality with echoes of Russian romanticism appearing and vanishing. Those are followed by Zaborov’s brooding Suite “Entrelacs” with dark, introspective episodes, played in sonorous intensity by Lin.

The recording concludes with Lin’s performance of Prokofiev’s Four Pieces for Piano. Composed in 1908, it “can be described as a mirror reflecting the country’s growing tensions”, Zaborov so notes. There is a sense of artistic freedom beginning with the wistful “Reminiscence”, then the rhythmic “Elan” that sounds balletic, followed by “Despair” with its straightforward narrative of anguished chords over a stilted three note dirge. The last section is the clamorous (almost vampy) “Diabolic Suggestion” which Lin doesn’t hold back essaying its blatant fury.

-- Lewis J. Whittington,

The impeccable piano playing Ms. Lin shows her flair for thinking so far outside the box almost no one can keep up with her. In tackling some more classical Russian repertoire, she bookends some solid Prokofiev with recent works by a young Russian that she finds the gold in, all with just ten fingers and no outside help. A classical piano recital of the highest order, Sunday afternoon ears don't need to fight traffic and ticket prices to revel in the joys of this masterwork anytime at all. High calibre throughout.

--MidWest [03/31/17]

I try not to drive without Jenny Lin’s Get Happy CD in my car. It’s not that I listen to it all the time (although it gets quite a bit of play), but it’s useful for stress reduction when I’m caught in stop-and-go traffic. In part, that’s because of the repertoire: a dozen and a half familiar show (and movie) tunes in often virtuosic arrangements by keyboard wizards such as Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough, Earl Wild, and David Saperton (whose version of “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” is the closest you’ll come to a Godowsky transcription of Gershwin). But even more, it’s because of the breezy confidence of the performances, supported by a solid technique that never calls attention to itself and laced with a wit that never turns arch.

The same fluency and unforced virtuosity mark the performances on her latest release. Cinderella may be radically less complex than Saperton’s adaptation of Gershwin, but Lin’s ability to distinguish the lines within the texture is similarly valuable as the Amoroso moves to its climax. And while nothing in the Prokofiev is quite as rhythmically giddy as Wild’s version of Fascinatin’ Rhythm, Lin’s knack for syncopations still pays high dividends in The Quarrel. Throughout, her sense of color and phrasing are seductive—and she captures Prokofiev’s kaleidoscopic spirit, from the intoxication of “Cinderella Goes to the Ball” to the dense obsessiveness of “Despair” (the third of the op. 4 pieces), with consistent acuity. You’d have to go back to Richter to find a better version of Cinderella—and the Four Pieces are equally strong.

Between the two Prokofiev works are four brief multipart compositions by Kirill Zaborov (born in 1970), who also contributed the notes. Zaborov is an active jazz performer and composer, but don’t expect the kind of brash energy we get from Kapustin. Except for the Suite (a neo-Baroque triptych with a miniature passacaglia and fugue surrounding a central Andante), these are, for the most part, laid-back works, charming and unassuming in spirit, thin in texture, with melodies and harmonies that rarely imprint themselves in your imagination.

There is, though, an intriguing story behind the Variations on Shostakovich. Zaborov has picked, as his source material, the Song of the Counterplan, an oft-recycled tune popular in the Soviet Union and, for a while at least, familiar in the West as The United Nations on the March. On the surface, it’s upbeat and optimistic (which is why it fit so easily into Shostakovich’s 1950s musical comedy Moscow Cheryomushki). But it plays a chilling role in Julian Barnes’s novel, The Noise of Time, and it “brings up an inchoate sorrow” for Zaborov. That’s because the original words were written by his maternal grandfather, Boris Kornilov, a poet who, like so many of his artistic friends (including Meyerhold and Mandelstam) was caught up in the Great Purge. He was arrested in 1937 and executed in 1938, having barely reached his 30s. The theme, as first presented, has been slightly transformed to give it a melancholy tinge; but rather than follow through on that to express his “inchoate sorrow,” Zaborov centers on his grandfather’s “hopes and enthusiasms, … wanderings and joys.” Fair enough: There’s good reason to celebrate “hopes and enthusiasms,” too. To my ears, though, the result is slightly lackluster, without the exuberance that characterized so much of the best art of the early Soviet period.

Other listeners, though, may well be more taken by the Zaborov—and in any case, the performances of the Prokofiev would make this disc worth owning even if there were nothing else on the disc. Strongly recommended.

-- Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare

"The Taiwanese-American pianist Jenny Lin has her fans at MusicWeb; in 2000 Colin Clarke welcomed her BIS collection, Chinoiserie, and Brian Reinhart was much heartened by Get Happy, an album of show tunes she recorded for Steinway in 2012. In between Lin’s shown herself to be quite versatile, encompassing the music of Federico Mompou (Steinway STNS 30004) and Dmitri Shostakovich (Hänssler 98.530). She may be new to me, but I’ve recently become acquainted with the Steinway label through Stewart Goodyear’s Nutcracker arrangement and Franz Liszt’s opera and song transcriptions with Gábor Farkas.

As for this recording, it’s made on their behalf by Sono Luminus, at their studios in Boyce, Virginia. The team, which includes Dan Merceruio, Daniel Shores and David Angell, did a splendid job on the Nutcracker; their most recent work for SL—Recurrence, the first in a projected series with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Lara Downes’s America Again—is top-notch, too. The wild card here is the composer and pianiste de jazz Kirill Zaborov. Born in Minsk in 1970, but now resident in France, he writes in the booklet that his music is ‘partially inspired by [the] 20th-century Russian tradition’. The pieces played here date from 2011/12.

In those same notes Zaborov insists Prokofiev’s Op. 4 reflects political tensions in Russia at the time. That may be debatable, but what’s very clear is the music’s startling and provocative break with the past. Lin certainly emphasises the restless angularity of Prokofiev’s writing, its uncompromising nature expressed in glittering figures in the right hand and pounding ones in the left. This is a superb performance, precisely articulated and fearlessly scaled, especially in the fiendish Suggestion diabolque. As expected, the recording copes well with these challenging dynamics. Happily, there’s no added edge or hardness to the sound either.

That energy and unflinching accuracy also informs Lin’s approach to the Cinderella transcriptions. That said, she can be gentle and affectionate too—take the start of the Waltz (Cinderella and the Prince), for instance—modulating to something stronger and more declamatory when required. In short, nothing seems to faze this pianist, who really does have a feel for these delectable tunes; indeed, her playing is a reminder—if it were needed—that Cinderella is one of Prokofiev’s most inventive scores. I was very taken with the pellucidity and point of Cinderella’s Variations and The Quarrel, the low comedy of the latter particularly well caught.

Not surprisingly, the complex interplay of left and right hands in Cinderella’s Departure for the Ball holds no terrors for Lin, who’s so easeful at this point. Her control of phrase and colour is exemplary too—just sample the Pas-du-chale­—and the mix of wistful charm and quiet exultation in the Amoroso is a joy to hear. And I do like the way the final note is allowed to decay, without a sudden switch to ‘digital silence’. The problem, of course, is that music of such quality sets the bar dauntingly high for Zaborov.

The first piece is a set of variations based on the title song that Shostakovich composed for the 1932 Soviet film Counterplan. The connection with Zaborov’s homeland doesn’t end there; as he points out, the lyrics were written by his maternal grandfather, the poet Boris Kornilov. These jewelled fragments—most last for half a minute or so—have admirable clarity and shape, not to mention plenty of variety. Then again, one would expect nothing less from the pen of a man who’s also a jazz pianist.

According to Zaborov, his 9 Variations for Piano was inspired by his first visit to Florence, which he describes as ‘the cradle of the Renaissance’. There’s a restrained floridity to the writing that seems apt, with moments of quiet reflection in between. As ever, Lin is very much in control of her material, bringing out every flourish and curlicue. This is tasty fare, with just enough flavour to tickle one’s palate. The detailed, naturally balanced piano sound adds to the relaxed, unassuming appeal of the piece...

Intelligent and imaginative music-making, coupled with first-rate sound..."

-- MusicWeb International

This is the sixth CD of a superb series of recordings on the Steinway & Sons label by the Taiwan born and Austrian raised pianist Jenny Lin. She began her piano studies at age four in Vienna and at age 10 entered the Hochschule für Musik. She came to the United States at age 14 and graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1998. Lin has studied with Leon Fleisher and Richard Goode and lives in New York City where she teaches at the 92nd Street Y. Her recording of Stravinsky solo piano works and the album Get Happy (show tunes for piano) demonstrate her proficiency in diverse repertoire. She plays with virtuosity and musical intelligence, and has a unique ability to express the music’s emotional essence. Steinway and Sons has provided her with the most authentic piano sound that I’ve heard in a long time.

This album juxtaposes two works of Prokofiev – the early Four pieces for piano, op.4 (1908) and Six Pieces, Op. 102 of selections from his ballet Cinderella with short pieces written between 2011 and 2012 by the contemporary Franco Russian composer Kirill Zaborov (b. 1970). Born in Minsk, Belarus, Zaborov moved to France at age 11. He studied as a pianist and jazz drummer and from 1994-98 he formed several bands, composing and playing in jazz clubs. At the same time he wrote classical works for piano and string quartet, music for documentary films and multi-media concerts. In his program notes for this CD, Zaborov writes, “In its stylistic expression my music is partially inspired by twentieth-century Russian tradition, a legacy whose spiritual depth constantly nourishes my imagination with crucial aspects of its mysterious essence.” The works here are homages to that tradition.

Zaborov’s music here are all miniatures that tend to merge together into one long suite of works that are both modern and melodic in their contrapuntal ingenuity. In Nine Variations on the theme by Dmitri Shostakovich he uses an accompaniment to a hymn Shostakovich wrote in 1932. Each variation represents an emotional aspect of his grandfather’s life. It’s lovely music filled with emotion, sorrow and fond remembrances. The Variations for piano “Quattrocento” are pleasant miniatures that might appear in a lounge concert, each with a classical title, “whether ephemeral adagios or passionate outbursts.”

Ten Apparitions fly by the ear as brief but ingratiating allusions to rhythm and atmosphere, “like a travel diary in which are recorded, as in a fleeting breath, our most intimate thoughts and passions,” the composer explains. Suite for Piano: “Entrelacs” are somber and contemplative. Lin’s animated and dynamic pianism makes these miniatures come alive.

Prokofiev’s early (1908) Four pieces for piano, op. 4 established him as a composer and pianist not afraid of bold dissonances juxtaposed next to moments of quietude and “hammered rhythms.” Lin’s virtuosity shines in these strikingly different movements. Prokofiev dedicated his ballet Cinderella to Tchaikovsky, emphasizing the “poetic love of Cinderella for the Prince, the birth and flowering of that love, the obstacles it encountered, and, finally the fulfillment of a dream.” In the Six Pieces from Cinderella, Op. 102, the composer chose to express the different aspects of the development of the love affair (waltzes, quarrel and Amoroso) in romantic, classical and modern musical language. Lin’s playing expresses every nuance of the musical story. This is intelligent piano playing of enormous verve and emotional range.

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