True, Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin is not a household name, but with CDs like this, hopefully his time will come (and soon). How should this album be recommended? The draw will either be Kapustin or Hamelin (or both) - and review boards are already flooded with superlatives for Marc-Andre Hamelin, the Canadian sensation with a mind-boggling technique. That said, I'll say what I can about Kapustin's works to offer a recommendation, as there is far less about him and his compositions.
Kapustin is often labeled as a 'jazz-' or a 'crossover-' composer. I think that the latter is a more appropriate label. True, many of his compositions are jazzy, but he certainly does not limit himself to this style, and the idiomatic well from which he draws is so deep, that no listener will be displeased. Reviewers often mention Art Tatum, Gottschalk, Jelly Roll Morton, Gershwin, Joplin, and Zez Confrey as those whose sounds are evoked in Kapustin - his works range over blues, jazz, ragtime, and 'cocktail bar nonchalance' themes in addition to delving into more modern ideas.
The Variations Op. 41 and 8 Concert Etudes, Op. 40 are indicative of the more jazzy side, as is the Bagatelle No. 9. The Suite in the Old Style, Op. 28 and Sonata No. 6 are, while excellent compositions, more on the borderline, thematically, between jazz and 20th-century. Recordings of these works already exist (all of them performed by Kapustin, on Russian labels), so the real gems of Hamelin's disc are the Sonatina, Op. 100 and 5 Etudes for Piano in Different Intervals, Op. 68. The Sonatina is a delightful Haydn-esque romp, very light, and the Interval Etudes are some of the most difficult, harrowing, and breathtaking etudes I've heard. The final 'Etude in Octaves' is, as another reviewer put it, "the octave study to end all octave studies," which Hamelin plays to perfection.
Yes, I'll admit I am a fan of Kapustin's music (I own 7 or 8 albums) so my recommendation is slightly biased, but all those whom I've leant this CD to have been astonished. I fully recommend this album - but have a listen to some audio samples first to judge for yourself. Tower Records has streams of all the tracks, as well as Steven Osborne's wonderful Hyperion Kapustin album. The Boheme Music website has 2 whole albums available to stream with Kapustin himself as the composer, including works featured on this disc. Check them out. Not convinced? As for a proper review of this album (this is my first; apologies to all!) and more information, please visit the Hyperion Records website for Jed Distler's comments. Happy hunting!