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“Bravura: Favorite Showpieces for Piano & Orchestra”
Richard Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto [1]
George Gershwin: Variations on “I Got Rhythm” [2]
Frédéric Chopin: Variations on Mozart’s “Là ci darem la mano”, opus 2 [3]
Camille Saint-Saëns: Caprice-Valse, opus 76 “Wedding Cake” [4]
Paul Turok: Ragtime Caprice, opus 65 [5] ^
Carl Maria von Weber/Franz Liszt: Polonaise Brillante, opus 72 [6]
Duke Ellington: New World A-Comin’ [7] ^^
Henry Litolff: “Scherzo” from Concerto Symphonique n° 4 in D minor, opus 102 [8]

Joshua Pierce (piano), Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor (conductor)
Recording: Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Republic of Slovakia (June 1, 2000 [7], March 24, 2001 [4, 8], May 26, 2001 [5], December 18-19, 2001 [1, 3, 6], January 4, 2007 [2]) (^ World Premiere Recording) (^^ First Release) – 74’35
MSR Classics MS 1640 – Booklet in English

Over the years Joshua Pierce has been strongly connected to recording works within the mainstream classical venue, though recently he’s broadened his reach into the 20th century and esoteric communities. With over 65 CDs under his belt, including Mendelssohn’s illustrious Concertos for Two Pianos with Dorothy Jonas, the pianist has now taken a side road into something more snazzy. Daring to be brilliant is exactly what bravura connotes. Now Joshua Pierce shows his lighter, looser side by muscling his musical flexibility into new discoveries and a plenteous sampling of all-time favorites.

Turning back to World War II is where the CD opens and what a discovery it is: Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto will enthrall. Having personally listened to this piece on vinyl since childhood, it’s a treat to finally experience the unveiling of the full cinematic score. Arching forth with hints at Grieg’s Concerto in A minor and Gone with the Wind Civil War sweeps, Addinsell’s music was written for the UK’s 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight. Structured with Rachmaninoff huskiness, Joshua Pierce quickly sets a level of boldness and an uplifting melodramatic draft...it ravishes.

Infused by endless coloratura, Frédéric Chopin’s dissertation of Don Giovanni’s ever-popular duet never overstays its welcome. The dramatic prélude build pathways M. Pierce into unleashing the keys to open the door into the familiar song line (3’52), giving the pianist even more artistic space. This showcase calico-patchwork of Mozartian ideas bulges with animated, amorous conversation. Riddled with a plethora of techniques, specifically, staccato arpeggios, the runs are simply majestic. The pianist pays homage to the esteemed composer by taking his time, though the piece never dawdles. Vestiges of Chopin polonaise-esque flourishes close out the piece with an energized shell and ten-fold stimulation. In this and all the other pieces, M. Pierce’s technique would not have the same amount of pulsation without the rich drop cloth of Kirk Trevor’s Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.

‘Laced with confectionary icing’ is the gâteau Camille Saint-Saëns wanted to depict...a wedding present extended to pianist Caroline Montigny-Rémaury. Like a layered torte, the “Wedding Cake” has sprinkles of endless staccato streams in both directions, and Joshua Pierce scrupulously analyzes its dulcet qualities with sophisticated and diminutive perspectives.

Housing a roster of enticing gems that were recorded between 2000 and 2007 brings us to experiencing a frivolous Scott Joplin or an edgy William Bolcom rag-like encasement. On a historical front we’re fortunate to experience the World Premiere Recording of Paul Turok’s new Ragtime Caprice. Back in the 1990s Paul Turok approached Joshua Pierce to look at recording one of the composer’s original creations. Opening with Gottschalk temperament with a ‘variations on a theme’ outlook, the Ragtime Caprice strongly pulls from Gershwin and even Bernstein’s On the Town (1949). Though sometimes swaggering, Turok always exhibits a broader hem of sassiness. Bombastic Brooklyn responses along with sweeping melodious enclaves is what keeps the Ragtime Caprice chugging along with jazzy pizzazz.

Similarly, George Gershwin’s invigorating variations of I Got Rhythm is a clear show-stopper, no matter where performed. Joshua Pierce bores into the score's core with widened boundaries, giving the piece a rollicking kick and jump-start connection...a superb American favorite.

Turning the page to another apportioned frisson, the flint ignites when moving into Lizst’s and von Weber’s compaction. Pierce’s devilishly filigreed notes impulsively jump. With a virtuosic preamble, the music suddenly begins another ‘phase’ by introducing von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance with thrilling and trilling cadences (2’11) that eventually catapult into a finagling of Liszt gyrations. This whirligig moment is highly addictive.

MSR Classics' positioning of pieces is well-managed. After a dizzying round of Polonaise Brillante, we’re given softer respites with fizzy sensations of Duke Ellington’s New World A-Comin’, a condensed concerto turning back to Vincent Lushington Ottley’s radio documentary that spawned the brassy passage...M. Pierce gives it a bright and bluesy treatment with an exceptional saucy 1940s kick. A wiggled sophistication, leave it to "The Duke" to give us an energized fix!

Lastly, Joshua Pierce is to be commended for giving one of the finest deliveries of Henry Litolff’s Scherzo from his Concerto Symphonique. “Blasting off the pages” in snowballing 6/8 time, each note is discerned in sharp curtail...point-blank impeccability...a marvelous moment.

“Bravura” is a potpourri of spine-tingling vivaciousness. Over the past 15 years of critiquing, this reviewer can attest to this recording as being one of the finest arrivals. If there’s one word that can sum up this CD, it’s “stunning”!

Joshua Pierce Website

Christie Grimstad




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