As of today, piano fans in the Washington area must rely more on recordings and less on live concerts for their favorite kind of music. The University of Maryland International Piano Festival stopped being an annual event last night at the grand finale of its William Kapell Piano Competition.
But while they await the (now-biennial) festival's return in 1992, fans may console themselves with recordings -- notably a new one by Haesun Paik, winner of the 1989 competition. Recorded by Tonmeister Recordings, of Bethesda, under the auspices of the university's summer programs office and immaculately produced by Nimbus records, the disc (UMKAPELL 89) recalls vividly the stylistic sensitivity, the impressive technique and the imaginative -- even daring -- choice of repertoire that earned Paik her victory.
She opens with a wonderfully lyrical and technically assured reading of Liszt's charming "Rigoletto" paraphrase, followed by his evocative "Venezia e Napoli." The highlight of the album is her lucid, superbly controlled reading of Scriabin's Sonata No. 5, which was also a highlight of her playing in the competition. She is equally at home in the very different styles of Debussy's "Images" (Book II) and Donald Martino's neo-baroque Suite in Old Form (its first recording). Given any kind of luck, which is as important as it is unpredictable, Paik seems to have everything necessary for a distinguished piano career.
Also from the University of Maryland -- not from the festival but from the university's International Piano Archives -- comes a fascinating collection of chamber music performances (IPAM 1201A-B, two CDs) dating from 1923 to 1980, drawn from home and studio recordings, radio transcriptions, even a piano roll, and featuring pianist Nadia Reisenberg. The best items in a rather variable selection include performances with Leonard Rose (the Brahms Cello Sonata, Op. 38), Earl Carlyss and Joel Krosnick (the Mendelssohn Trio, Op. 49), Erick Friedman (the Strauss Violin Sonata in E-flat) and Benny Goodman (short selections by Weber and Beethoven). The quality of the sound and the music is variable; the level of communication is consistently high. This item can be ordered only from IPAM, Music Library, Hornbake 3210, University of Maryland, College Park, Md. 20742, at a cost of $25 per two-disc set. Some listeners will find the collaboration with Rose worth that amount all by itself.
Another piano recording of unusual interest to connoisseurs is a four-CD set from Pearl, an English label that specializes in recordings from early in this century: "Ignaz Friedman: The Complete Solo Recordings 1923-1936" (IF 2000). Friedman, a pupil of Leschetizky, was brilliant and unpredictable, gifted with impressive technique and original ideas, a composer in his own right and inclined to treat other composers' music as his own, adapting its phrasing and accents to his own inclinations. A few items in this set are heard in more than one performance, including the second and third movements of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata and Chopin's Mazurka Op. 33, No. 2, and it is fascinating to see him not repeating himself.
In an age (now perhaps ending) of rigid adherence to the printed page, Friedman offers a stimulating example of artistic freedom. His Chopin and Mendelssohn (the two composers most abundantly represented) may be his best work, but he is also interesting in the music of Dvorak, Schubert, Anton Rubinstein and, of course, Ignaz Friedman.
Other piano records I have been enjoying lately:
Pianist John O'Conor and conductor Charles Mackerras combine the strengths shown in O'Conor's Beethoven sonata cycle and Mackerras's Mozart symphony cycle (both recorded by Telarc) in a new recording of Mozart's Piano Concertos No. 21 and 27 (Telarc CD-80219).
Andras Schiff makes a convincing case for Bach on the piano in a recording of the Italian Concerto, the French Suite No. 5 and the Partita in B Minor, BWV 831 (Omega OCD 1014).
Mitsuko Uchida, one of the best Mozart pianists on the scene, proves equally adept at Debussy in a recording of his 12 Etudes (Philips 422 412-2). Debussy playing of great distinction (including "Pour le Piano," "Children's Corner" and "Estampes") can be heard from Jean-Bernard Pommier on Virgin VC 7 90847-2.
Wilhelm Backhaus has a richness of vision to match his richness of tone in Beethoven's Piano Concertos No. 4 and 5, with Clemens Kraus conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (London 425 962-2). The recording, dating from the 1950s, is mono but well detailed.
Sergei Rachmaninoff's piano-playing from 1919 to 1929 has an even richer sound than Backhaus in the '50s on London 425 964-2 because the music is actually on Ampico piano rolls played back for modern stereophonic microphones. Those who wonder about the validity of the piano roll as a recording medium can compare many items in this set with Rachmaninoff's audio recordings of the same pieces on RCA 7766-2-RG. Whatever you decide, it is remarkable how much nuance the Ampico rolls convey, and it is good to hear this great pianist in first-class modern sound.