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MusicWeb International, October 2012

…this is a long way from being a ‘complete works’ series, but it does give a taster of the considerable genius of a composer…

Nguyen is clearly aware of Raff’s historical lineage and imbues his music with what seems like the perfect dynamic of energy, drama, light and pathos. Her excellent technique and expressive flexibility—for example, demonstrating restraint where another might turn to melodrama—combine to produce interpretations that will long serve as a yardstick against which future performers must measure themselves. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, October 2012

RAFF, J.: Piano Works, Vol. 1 (Tra Nguyen) GP602
RAFF, J.: Piano Works, Vol. 2 (Tra Nguyen) GP612

…[Nguyen] gives powerfully persuasive performances of the…Drei Klavier-Soli, Op 74: lasting nearly half an hour, its Ballade, Scherzo and ‘Metamorphosen’…are well worth exploring. The Fantaisie in B major which follows is a real discovery in two senses: the manuscript turned up in 2010 buried among some unrelated Liszt organ works; and its beautifully melodic material (another Raff characteristic), constantly transformed by Chopinesque and Lisztian figurations, is dispatched with an assured touch and subtle colouring by Nguyen.

Vol 2 is arguably even more consistently interesting, beginning with the three thematically linked movements of the Fantaisie-Sonate of 1871, dedicated to Saint-Saëns and surely worth a place in the regular concert repertoire. Tra Nguyen makes the best possible case for all these works and has been well recorded on a splendidly voiced Steinway at Wyastone. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Michael Church
The Independent, July 2012

This new label is starting with an interesting “new” composer, since Joachim Raff (1822–1882) has been totally overshadowed by his contemporary Liszt. Tra Nguyen shows what an original and brilliant voice Raff’s is: the colour and inventiveness of his Metamorphosen is entirely his own. © 2012 The Independent

Alan Becker
American Record Guide, July 2012

The works appearing in Volume 1 all date from his early years in Weimar. Fruhlingsboten (Harbingers of Spring) is a cycle of 12 movements with such individual titles as ‘Hibernation’, ‘Good Tidings’, and ‘Evening’. They are clearly in the Schumann-Brahms mold and are essentially free of rhetoric and empty virtuosity. No. 6, ‘Confusion’, turns out to be a fugue and points out Raff’s interest in structure and form. If the suite rarely tugs at the heart, it is still impressive for clarity of expression.

3 Piano Solos, Op. 74 are substantial structures and make a beautiful grouping. The ‘Ballade’ has a sweep and passion redolent of the mature composer at his best. The Scherzo has a Mendelssohn-like delicacy and moves in will-o-the-wisp fashion towards its sparkling conclusion. The final ‘Metamorphosen’ is considered one of his best piano works. Its modified variation structure is gloriously varied, superbly played, and well worth the price of the disc.

…this is a substantial work with some amazing passages and considerable substance.

The playing is of a beguiling loveliness, the recording has richness and depth, and the music, a revelation, makes one eager for the next volume. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

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 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, 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

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