Vytautas Smetona Plays Brahms, Chopin & Smetona

Album cover art for upc 896931005869
Label: Navona
Catalog: NV6286
Format: COMPACT DISC

Smetona, Vytautas

Exalted and expressive to just the right degree, Ohio-born pianist Vytautas Smetona fuses his American upbringing with his Lithuanian heritage in his recordings of Brahms, Chopin and his own work. His second release on Navona exhibits technical command of the highest order, profound musical understanding and a clarity of interpretation which is seldom heard. No wonder, perhaps, considering that Smetona's recording debut in 1979 already boasted the ambitious combination of Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff; and what was an extraordinary musical feat already then has since ripened and mature into a sensible, sensitive approach to piano literature which has few equals. Where most concert pianists are afraid to fully dive into the depths of dynamic and expressive range, Smetona does so with bravura. This benefits him immensely: for example, there is a furor in Brahms' fortissimi which is a refreshingly far cry from the rather coddled, mannered pianistic style so common today. Smetona strives against the stream, thunderously and energetically; it's how Beethoven would have played Brahms – and it's fantastic. But there's more, namely an entirely different quality when it comes to lyrical passages, particularly those abundant in Chopin's dances. Smetona plays them with a soft rationality, a logical kind of tenderness. This classical playing style applied to Romantic piano literature brings out every detail with elevated contrast. Nestled between Brahms and Chopin is Smetona's own work, Fantasy in F minor (2015). It fits perfectly with the program, at times reminiscent of the former and other times of the latter, with echoes of Rachmaninoff here and there. The tonal language is late-Romantic, with the improvisatory element firmly reigning over this composition. It's easy to imagine it as a modern cadenza to a concerto by Brahms (or, if one were to be audacious, one by Kalkbrenner or Norbert Burgmüller).

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