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Steve Holtje
Culture Catch, January 2013

Best New Classical Albums of 2012: #13

This was certainly the most intriguing new cycle of 2012 based on the criterion of revival of little-known yet often high-quality music. Weinberg’s…sonatas are impressive. There’s no question…that the most significant works here are the Sonatas…they are excellent works, and Franzetti’s bravura performances make an emphatic case for their artistic significance. © 2013 Culture Catch



Scott Noriega
Fanfare, September 2012

This, the first volume in an anticipated cycle of the complete piano works of Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919–96), is a project for which some have waited a long time. This recital alone has three premiere recordings of his works: the Lullaby, op. 1, the Mazurkas, op. 10, and the Sonata, op. 49bis. As Weinberg was a virtuoso of the instrument…his music needs a performer who is not only technically capable of handling some of the inherent difficulties in his writing, but one who can at the same time make sense of his dense modernist language. It is fortunate that Allison Brewster Franzetti has taken on this project, as she has proven herself up to the task with her noteworthy recording of 20th-century piano sonatas recorded for Naxos…

The recital here opens with the Piano Sonata No. 1, op. 5, a tense and dramatic work made up of a slow introduction, a quirky Shostakovich-like second movement reminiscent of the Polka from The Age of Gold , a slow intermezzo, and a frenzied rhapsodic toccata. Throughout the work, Franzetti finds just the right balance between the severe character of the dissonant and virtuosic passages and the gentle ebb and flow of the more lyrical ones. Franzetti relishes the simplicity of [Piano Sonata No. 2, op. 8], from the first movement’s continuous wandering figuration to its more subdued and mesmerizing second movement (here reminiscent of a Shostakovich prelude of sorts).

Weinberg’s very first published work, the Lullaby, is mesmerizing; its unrelenting rhythmic impulse provides a sense of stasis, while its turbulent harmonies provide a feeling of anxiety…a charming work and one that would no doubt appeal to many. Franzetti throughout proves a fine guide to this too-little-played music. If one enjoys the music of Prokofiev or Shostakovich, then one would also enjoy the music of Weinberg. In very fine performances here, and in adequate sound (a bit reverberant for my taste), this is a fine release. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review



Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, July 2012

Grand Piano is a new label, launched in March of this year and distributed by Naxos, dedicated to recording rare works and complete cycles. This is Volume 1 of Moisei Vainberg’s piano music…and contains the first recordings of the Lullaby, Op. 1, the Two Mazurkas, Op. 10, and the Sonata, Op. 49b. Sonata No. 1, Op. 5, from 1940, is a four-movement piece that clocks in at 15 minutes. III, an Adagio, has a lot of beauty and emotional variety. The playing is good…Excellent notes in English and German. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide



Colin Clark
International Piano, July 2012

Franzetti’s playing in the Second Sonata is outstanding; layered and clearly the result of much thought. The Adagio plumbs the greatest depths of the disc, ending with tolling bells that lead into the dancing finale.

Franzetti’s Naxos disc of 20th-century piano music has been warmly welcomed by the critical press; this disc is just as successful. © 2012 International Piano



Roger Knox
The WholeNote, June 2012

Miecyslaw Weinberg’s major piano works are ably performed by Allison Brewster Franzetti, some in premiere recordings. Franzetti’s performance of the magical close of the Andantino is touching, seemingly wandering into the distance before the fearsome Finale emerges. Official pressure against Shostakovich’s experimentalism forced him towards the Symphony No.5’s more “positive” idiom; comparing Weinberg’s Second Sonata (1942) to the first shows similar movement. Harmony is organized around familiar scales, the music lilts and sings. Franzetti builds perfectly towards the slow movement’s climax, and the quiet return of the opening mood is breathtaking. © 2012 The WholeNote Read complete review




Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, April 2012

Interest in the music of the Polish-born Russian composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg has revived over the past couple of years, since the emergence of his 1968 Holocaust-themed opera “The Passenger.” Now comes a new collection of gritty and fascinating works—the first installment of a projected complete cycle of Weinberg’s piano music—that can only accelerate the process. Weinberg, who died in 1996, was a friend and protege of Shostakovich’s, and the influence of the older composer suffuses this music—especially the Sonata No. 1, which boasts some of the same angular rhythms, tart dissonances and mournful expressivity. But Weinberg’s harmonic language, as well as his taste for spirited fantasy, is distinctive, and there is an ambitious quality to the last piece here—a sonatina expanded 25 years later into a full-scale sonata—that is irresistible. Completeness means we also get some teenage works that are slim but utterly charming. Allison Brewster Franzetti plays it all with fervor and appealing commitment. © 2012 San Francisco Chronicle



SteveHoltje
Culture Catch, April 2012

Much of this album features premiere recordings…Harmonically slippery, by turns ironically wry or darkly elusive, they are excellent works, and anyone who diminishes them by comparison to Shostakovich and/or Prokofiev, as some do, is being too harsh—and is missing out on some dramatically effective music. Allison Brewster Franzetti, whose modernist bona fides are certainly in order, gives us bravura performances that make an emphatic case for the numbered sonatas’ artistic significance. Of the Grand Piano releases I’ve heard, this is the most crucial and satisfying. © 2012 Culture Catch Read complete review



Infodad.com, April 2012

Weinberg (1919–1996) is sometimes mentioned as the third great Russian/Soviet composer of the 20th century, after Prokofiev and Shostakovich, but his works are far less frequently played than theirs. And he is primarily known for orchestral music, including 22 symphonies and seven operas, plus chamber music (17 string quartets) and film scores (about 40). Still, he wrote six piano sonatas and a fair amount of other piano music, and Allison Brewster Franzetti makes a strong case for this first batch of it, which includes his first two sonatas and world première recordings of three other works. Sonata No. 1 dates to 1940 and has a modern, or rather modernistic, feel, with considerable dissonance. Sonata No. 2 (1942) has more-classical poise and balance and a greater feeling of solidity. These are four-movement works. Also here is a three-movement one identified as Sonata, Op. 49bis, which is actually a 1978 reworking and expansion of a 1951 piece that Weinberg labeled a sonatina. It is one of the première recordings. The others are the composer’s Op. 1, Lullaby, a brief work from 1935 that is surprisingly intense for a piece with this title, and two Mazurkas written even earlier (in 1933), which are essentially examples of well-constructed 20th-century salon music. Weinberg’s piano works may not be the best introduction to his music, but they are worthy and well-made and will be of particular interest to pianists—Weinberg himself was one. © 2012 Infodad.com



James Manheim
Ariama.com, April 2012

not the best samples of Weinberg’s mature style, but all are worthwhile. The Two Mazurkas, Op. 10, and Lullaby, Op. 1, were Weinberg’s earliest works, written during his teenage years, with all kinds of unexpected youthful complications arising from simple tonal material. The Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 8, is a pure essay in Prokofiev’s style; it was premiered by Emil Gilels. A bit more interesting is the slightly earlier Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 5, with tough dissonances kept in check by contrapuntal passages. The mood, although not the specific language, recall early Shostakovich. The final Piano Sonata, Op. 49bis, will also be of interest to Soviet music buffs. It had its origins in a work written during the repression of Stalin’s culture czar Andrei Zhdanov, when composers retreated to a safe simplicity. But Weinberg returned to the work in the 1970s and expanded it, with intriguing results: it has the flavor of a reflection on those difficult days. American pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti has a basic feel for Russian music and a muscular style that projects these explosive youthful works well. This is the first in a projected series of Weinberg works from this performer, and it bodes well for the set. © 2012 Rovi/Ariama Read complete review



Kevin Filipski
The Flip Side, March 2012

CD of the Week

Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (who died in 1996) has been rediscovered recently…His piano music, played persuasively by Allison Brewster Franzetti, runs the gamut from a Satie-esque Lullaby to the unabashedly dissonant Sonata No. 1. His second sonata has a Romantic-era feel, as do the early Two Mazurkas from 1933, while another Sonata—a 1978 revisiting of a 1951 piece—seamlessly blends his mid-period and later styles. © 2012 The Flip Side Read complete review



Craig Zeichner
Ariama.com, March 2012

Allison Brewster Franzetti is the soloist on this first volume of Weinberg’s complete piano music for Naxos’s new Grand Piano label.

The Two Mazurkas, written when Weinberg was fourteen, have a quirky charm that’s appealing despite their occasional awkward passages. Two years later comes the Lullaby, Op. 1 and it’s here we see a more mature, technically secure composer. Franzetti mines the Lullaby’s intensity while drawing out the music’s subtle colors. Weinberg’s music has long been compared to that of his friend Dmitry Shostakovich. A number of passages in the Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 5 of 1940 might recall Shostakovich, but Weinberg’s strikingly original voice takes flight in the pained third movement Andantino. No less a talent then Emil Gilels premiered the Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 8 and Franzetti’s performance of it is outstanding. She plays with power in the extroverted outer movements and brings a gentle song-like quality to the Adagio attacca. The Sonata Op. 49, written in 1950-51 and revised in 1978, represents the mature Weinberg, notably in the sweet and pungent quality of the central Andantino.

With four of the five works on the album receiving their world premiere recordings, this is a terrific start to the Weinberg series. I hope that Franzetti is the pianist chosen to continue and complete the series because her performances are ideal. © 2012 Ariama 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

Record companies have suddenly become aware of the previously little-known Polish composer, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Grand Piano adding three works to the catalogue. Born in Warsaw in 1919, Weinberg moved to Russia in 1939 to escape the German invasion of Poland, having to leave behind parents who were to perish. From the proverbial ‘frying pan into the fire’, he was later to suffer under the Stalin regime, only to become a political pawn when they needed someone they could use to disparage Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Dissidents gave up on him when he apparently failed to decry the treatment of political activists. This first disc of his complete piano works mainly covers his younger years, his career having started out as a concert pianist. His works at that time fell totally under the influence of Prokofiev, as the final movement of his First Sonata of 1940 would attest. But it was all skilfully composed, and no less a name than the great Emile Gilels gave the first performance of the Second Sonata in Moscow in 1943. It was the gentle rocking Lullaby from 1935 that carries the first opus number—when he was sixteen—but the pungently happy Two Mazurkas predated it by two years. The unnumbered Sonata was completed in 1951 and dedicated to Shostakovich, and though Weinberg returned to it in the post-Stalin era, it remains an uncomplicated score often of lyric attraction, the dedicatee surfacing in the austere finale. The American pianist, Allison Brewster Franzetti, is a champion of 20th century music, her playing technically assured and sympathetic to the Russian style of the period. She plays a Faziola Concert Grand that offers a very different sound to the familiar Steinway with its bright upper registers. Grand Piano comes from the Naxos stable, this new ‘full price’ label aimed to cover lesser known piano works. The sound quality is attractive. © 2012 David’s Review Corner






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