on 18 June 2000
The name Nikolai Kapustin will probably leave all but a very few people scratching their heads. Born in 1937, Kapustin is very much alive, a wonderfully prolific and active composer, and a virtuoso pianist of the highest caliber. He studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory with Alexander Goldenweiser, and is in possession of a world-class technique (I have been extremely fortunate to hear recordings of Kapustin performing his own music). Since his earliest student days as a composer/pianist, he has embraced the jazz idiom, with remarkable freshness and seemingly endless inspiration. Make no mistake though, this is not classical/jazz "cross-over", nor classical music with a whiff of jazz, but more the other way around. It is much closer to true jazz improvisation, meticulously written out, and in the right hands, capable of sounding incredibly free and spontaneous. And yet, Kapustin writes his style of music within established classical forms, like sonatas for example, of which he has written ten thus far, with hopefully more to come. I haven't heard anything quite like it. In that sense, his music is original in its own way, while at the same time clearly descended from two very established musical styles. The few people I know, all classical musicians, who have encountered Kapustin's music have had immediate and overwhelmingly favorable responses to it, myself included. I would think only the most staunchly conservative guardians of old-world western classical music traditions, or hardened jazz-haters would not love this man's music. There are very few pianists performing Kapustin's piano music in the world today, mostly because of extremely hard to find scores, and thus a general ignorance of his existence. My introduction to Kapustin's music was the pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, who has been programming Kapustin's Piano Sonata #2 on many of his recitals world-wide in recent times. Anyone who has heard Hamelin play Kapustin will not soon forget it, and I had sincerely hoped the he would make the first all-Kapustin CD. Nevertheless, as I listen to Steven Osbourne's playing on this disc, I find it nearly impossible to find fault with his playing in any way. At age 29, he is brimming with youthful vigor, and is totally at home in the jazz idiom. He has technique to burn, and exactly the right balance of rhythmic snap, clarity, and spontaneity to make these works jump off the page and out of your speakers. In the gentler moments, of which there are many, he conjures up a wonderful velvety, smoky, nocturnal mood that feels exactly right, not the least bit overdone or contrived. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Osbourne was a skilled improviser when not playing other people's music. In the Piano Sonata #2, Osbourne does not quite match Hamelin's fire, intensity, or overwhelming virtuosity in the "live" performances of this work I have heard, but he is quite rewarding in other ways. His slightly slower tempi in the fast movements and mellower approach allow the listener to be truly seduced by the music rather than being blown away by it, though frankly, I can be happy with either approach. If any of this sounds even halfway interesting to you, don't hesitate on this one. Buy it now, and thank me later. You'll be begging for more Kapustin before long.
Boy, where to start? I wonder how the recording label, Hyperion, decided to put this in the 'classical' category. Probably they did so because Kapustin himself called these pieces 'Sonata' or 'Prelude.' But, truth to tell, I'm hard pressed to find very much in the way of easily identifiable classical music procedures here (aside from grouping four pieces together and labeling them a sonata) unless one considers an eleven-minute piece [the first movement of the Second Sonata] 'classical' on the basis of length alone; of course, that would require us to include some of the improvisations of people like Keith Jarrett or Cecil Taylor in that category, too, and I suppose some would do so. Of course, a composer can call his music whatever he likes (look at Satie!) and if Nikolai Kapustin (b. 1937) wants to give these pieces 'classical' titles, that's his privilege. Maybe one of our best Amazon classical CD reviewers, 'weirdears' [Chris Forbes], who is himself a jazz pianist and composer, should be reviewing this disc. How about it, Chris?
That aside, I found this CD to be entirely delightful, once I got over my expectation that I'd be hearing sonata-allegro or other similar procedures. And I had already had SOME idea what to expect because Marc-AndrÃ© Hamelin had included the Toccatina, Op. 36, on his 'Kaleidoscope' CD (also from Hyperion and highly recommended).
What we have here is a masterful compendium of piano jazz styles, everything from barrelhouse, stride and boogie to Bill Evans, Cecil Taylor, Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner and Art Tatum, not to speak of the introspectively melodic close-hands technique of George Shearing and Denny Zeitlin. There is no question that Kapustin, who studied with one of the best classical piano teachers in Russia, Aleksandr Goldenweiser, and who has made his living off and on as a touring jazz pianist, has the technique to play (and write) spectacular solo jazz pieces. It is to his credit that he wrote them down--although I gather getting ahold of published copies of his music is a bit byzantine--and that young British pianist Steven Osborne has learned to play them. [One understands that there are bootleg recordings of Kapustin playing but I've never run across any of them.]
Leslie Gerber, a fine record reviewer specializing in piano music (and a fine pianist as well) dismisses this music as 'cocktail lounge' music. All I can say is that Gerber must hang out in better cocktail lounges than I've ever been to. This is superior jazz-making and it is no surprise to me that Osborne, whose own piano-playing credentials include a fine recording of Messaien's 'Vingt Regards' and a recently released CD of Alkan's 'Esquisses,' need not be embarrassed by this choice of repertoire.
So, the bottom line is this: if you like solo piano jazz and you have a taste for something a bit unusual, try this Russian 'Third Stream' music. I honestly don't think you'll be disappointed unless you imagine you're going to be hearing something like, say, Scriabin, Prokofiev or Medtner.
on 13 May 2012
MUCH TO MY DELIGHT THE CD WAS DELIVERED WITHIN 48 HOURS. I HAD NEVER HEARD OF NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN UNTIL A RECENT BBCRADIO3 BROADCAST AND RUSSIAN JAZZ BY A CLASSICALLY TRAINED PIANIST IS CERTAINLY WORTH LISTENING TO, BORN 1937 AND STILL ALIVE AND PERFORMING. HE HAS NOT TRAVELLED AS HE DISLIKES LEAVING RUSSIA, BUT HAS RECORDED IN jAPAN. THESE 24 PRELUDES IN JAZZ STYLE ARE BRILLIANT. THE PIANIST , STEVEN OSBORNE, BORN 1971 IN SCOTLAND, IS ONE OF BRITAIN'S MOST OUTSTANDING PIANISTS. I CAN'T RECOMMEND THIS CD HIGHLY ENOUGH TO LOVERS OF PIANO JAZZ.