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Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, September 2012

SAINT-SAENS, C.: Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 1 (Burleson) GP601
SAINT-SAENS, C.: Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 2 (Burleson) GP605

‘Les cloches de Las Palmas’ is surprisingly haunting and evocative…and the Toccata from the Fifth Piano Concerto provides a truly dazzling finish to the set.

Vol 2 is more satisfying, including the solo version of the first movement from the Third Concerto, the Allegro appassionato and the Theme and Variations (a piece all aglitter, with a bouncing Gilbert and Sullivan-type finish). Burleson’s opening salvos are admirably presented and recorded by Grand Piano. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone



Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, July 2012

Saint-Saens (1835-1921) composed three sets of Etudes: Op. 52 in 1877, Op. 111 in 1899, and Op. 135 in 1912. This is how Burleson has chosen to auspiciously begin his projected four or five volumes of his complete piano music. As the inaugural release on the new Grand Piano label, it bodes well for what should become a great label for piano music. Only a brilliant piano technician can perform these 18 knuckle-busters, and Burleson is such a pianist…his ability and stamina to get through these and make music out of them is nothing short of amazing.

The first two sets of Etudes are as difficult as Chopin’s and Liszt’s, though not on the same level musically. Often dealing with a single technical problem, they are inventive and effective, just not the supreme musical masterpieces we tend to regard Chopin’s and Liszt’s as. The last set is for the left hand alone and in a different musical world. Burleson has just the right panache to bring these off.

Recorded sound and booklet notes (by Burleson) are absolutely first class. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online



SteveHoltje
Culture Catch, April 2012

If this really does end up yielding the complete piano music of Saint-Saëns…it will be an impressive project…Though the first two sets are impressively challenging from a technical standpoint…they are fully compelling musically; they could easily have been published without “etude” in their titles. Saint-Saëns’s distance from the Romantic period’s characteristic freedom of structure is also emphasized: Op. 52 includes two pairs of Preludes and Fugues, and there’s another pair in Op. 111, while Op. 135 is a six-movement suite along Baroque lines. On the other hand, there’s a notable tinge of ragtime in Op. 11’s last piece, a stunningly complex Rondo, based on the finale of his Fifth Piano Concerto, which combines many of the techniques featured in the opus’s first five etudes. Burleson, noted for his set of Roy Harris’s complete piano music on Naxos, handles the technical hurdles with aplomb in superbly polished performances. © 2012 Culture Catch Read complete review



Infodad.com, April 2012

Grand Piano’s first volume of his pieces, devoted entirely to études, gives some sense of [Saint-Saëns’s] performing skill. Geoffrey Burleson does a fine job balancing the virtuosity and delicacy of the six from Op. 52 (1877), the six from Op. 111 (1899), and Six Études pour la main gauche seule, Op.135 (1912). The influences on the 18 pieces are quite different, and Burleson does well in showcasing the differentiation. These pieces…explore piano techniques skillfully while offering listeners more-substantial involvement than études usually do. © 2012 Infodad.com Read complete review



Rainer Aschemeier
The Listener, March 2012

SAINT-SAENS, C.: Piano Works (Complete), Vol. 1 (Burleson) GP601
RAFF, J.: Piano Works, Vol. 1 (Tra Nguyen) GP602
WEINBERG, M.: Piano Music (Complete), Vol. 1 (Brewster Franzetti) GP603
SCHULHOFF, E.: Piano Music, Vol. 1 - Partita / Susi / Suite No. 3 / Variationen und Fugato, Op. 10 (Weichert) GP604

What would you name a label dedicated exclusively to piano music? And not just the standard repertoire, with the obligatory Beethoven Sonata cycle and all the rest, but a label that courageously exploring the less-well-known works of composers such as Camille Saint-Saens, Erwin Schulhoff, Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Joachim Raff? What name or image best describes such a label, with such a singularity of purpose, and committed exclusively to presenting the rich, varied and diverse literature written for the piano? As if to remove all doubts, the producers have clearly stated their raison d’etre in naming their new label “Grand Piano.”

Despite an increasingly competitive market, the label announced their first four releases in March 2012, begging the question “Why start another, new classical label?” Such questions are inevitable, but unlike many of their competitors, the makers of Grand Piano have two aces up their sleeves that give this young, upstart a convincing edge.

First, the label has a clear sense of mission and an unambiguous concept. It is immediately clear what you will find here and who will be their (potential) audience.

Second, someone had a passionate vision and realized it without compromise. “Grand Piano” is by no means a “get rich quick” flavor of the month in an already oversaturated market. This label hopes to make their listeners hungry (once again) for something new and unfamiliar.

And so, the Grand Piano story begins, offering us four CDs (two of which offering World Premiere recordings….) making our first meeting a memorable one! Were the cachet of presenting a few World Premieres not already enough, the label further stands its ground in offering programs that are, for most casual listeners, not the standard “crowd-pleasers.” These carefully programmed discs offer a variety that will undoubtedly appeal to the serious collector. Whether it’s Camille Saint-Saens’ virtuoso etudes, or the perpetual melancholy of Mieczyslaw Weinberg – here you will find a joyous celebration for the keyboard connoisseur… and this is just the beginning!

In this way, the Grand Piano establishes itself as a label that demands to be taken seriously. Although the repertoire at first may seem a bit obscure, there can be no doubt that the works presented here are, among the most distinctive keyboard compositions of the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th century, (a possible exception being Saint Saens, whose Belle Époque salon pieces can tend to be a bit over-ripe…).

In particular, the piano works of Schulhoff and Weinberg are more than justified in receiving a second look, both of whom shared tragic lives and equally tragic neglect after their deaths. Also included is the first CD in what promises to be the first complete recorded edition of the piano music by the Swiss composer Joachim Raff. Despite being a contemporary of both Liszt and Brahms, Raff crafted his own rather unusual musical language, sharing some similarities with the music of the young Richard Strauss while at time, sounding like early Sibelius. All in all, a rewarding discovery for the curious, who are looking for some unusual repertoire in the grand, Romantic tradition.

The same care taken with the repertoire selection can also be seen in terms of the high quality of interpretations. Together, Caroline Weichert, Tra Nguyen, Allison Brewster Franzetti and Geoffrey Burleson possess all the requisite technical skills, and musical sensibility to bring each piece to life convincingly. Here too, Grand Piano has opted not to rely on the familiar, rather, they have recruited artists, each of whom have embraced the works of their chosen composers, with a profound sense of artistic mission.

Then again, maybe it’s just the overall appearance of Grand Piano that made the all-important first impression and convinced me that this recording would be good value for the money. Unlike many label “upstarts,” Grand Piano conveys the sense of being a complete package, from cover to cover. Now THAT is something worth mentioning!

The production qualities are uniformly solid throughout, not that recording a single piano is a particularly ambitious project – pace audiophile collectors. Rather, the focus of Grand Piano is to offer their listeners superb recordings of first-class performances, featuring rare and unusual repertoire recorded in more than acceptable sound.

From a personal perspective, I hope Grand Piano will test the waters  with a few SACDs in the future, just as many other prestigious classical labels such as cpo, Alia Vox, ALBA, Tudor, Divox, Channel Classics, Pentatone and Harmonia Mundi have done for quite some time. This would undoubtedly increase the value of these high-quality productions even more and would no doubt, lure a few die-hard audiophiles to give the label a second look. Last but not least, it should be mentioned that Grand Piano will be distributed by Naxos, ensuring wide availability.

Overall, all of us at www.the-listener.de were mightily impressed by these first four titles and are eager to see how it goes. Starting strong can be a blessing, a curse, and really just leaves two options: either Grand Piano continues to build upon these four discs and blossoms into the collectors’ keyboard “go to” label, or it fails to meet the mark. Either way, www.the-listener.de will continue to follow the future developments and will be certain to write about it. For now however, Hats off! Anyone who is seriously interested in piano music should check out Grand Piano for an extended test drive in their home CD player. © 2012 The Listener



David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2012

Though the name of Camille Saint-Saëns remains among the most familiar in classical music, it is surprising how few of his works we hear nowadays. In fact I cannot recall having encountered a performance of his three books of Etudes in the concert hall. He was, of course, a brilliant concert pianist and probably the greatest child prodigy of the 19th century, having made his Paris debut at the Salle Pleyel at the age of ten. Yet it has to be said that as a composer he was the ultimate example of the curate’s egg  that was ‘good in parts’. That is very true of the eighteen Etudes, for it is difficult to think what possessed him to link these demanding scores with homages to Chopin and Bach; a look back at his own Fifth Piano Concerto,  and an effort to frame music in the Baroque era, for they all end up as a hotchpotch of styles that sit uneasily together. Play each movement separately and there is so very much to enjoy, the technical difficulties presented to the performer offering ample scope for an outgoing show of virtuosity. All three volumes come from his mature years, the earliest completed in his forty-second year, the three books composed over the course of more than thirty years. The last of the three was for left hand, and dedicated to the composer’s oft duo partner whose right hand became incapacitated. The American pianist, Geoffrey Burleson, obviously enjoys the music, often bringing a feel of mischievous humour, particularly to the third book. At times he is tempted to push dazzling fingers past their comfort zone, but, by and large, I much enjoyed this first disc in the complete piano works of Saint-Saëns. © 2012 David’s Review Corner






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