SONGS I KNOW BY HEART
Pianist Scott Bradlee is better known as the founder of the YouTube sensation Postmodern Jukebox, which has made its reputation with its jazz-influenced arrangements of pop and contemporary hits.
His latest album, a solo effort, is a good showcase for his millennial sensibilities. While his playing style is rooted in jazz and blues, his programme is curated from radio-friendly pop hits of the past few decades.
While the band's offerings can swing wildly from spot-on covers to unwieldy mashups, his new album benefits from the bare-bones concept, which strips away all unnecessary frills. It is just him, a piano and an idiosyncratic programme which ricochets from the Super Mario Bros Theme and The Beatles' Hey Jude to Honeysuckle Rose and La Vie En Rose.
Super Mario Bros' tinny electronically beeped tune is a perfect match for Bradlee's old-school player piano arrangement. Ditto the electronic R&B slink of Childish Gambino's Redbone, which slides easily into the stride-inflected arrangement Bradlee has tailored for the tune.
There are a couple of nice surprises. Lou Reed's Perfect Day, stripped of its faux Bacharach orchestration, bares its swoonsomely romantic soul, while David Bowie's Space Oddity is all splendidly melancholic isolation.
Ong Sor Fern
A BEETHOVEN ODYSSEY VOL.5
James Brawn, piano
MSR Classics 1469
Ishay Shaer, piano
Orchid Classics 100076
The 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven in the recorded medium have been defined by the likes of historical pianists Artur Schnabel and Wilhelm Kempff and, more recently, Alfred Brendel. A younger generation represented by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Paul Lewis and Igor Levit have carried on quite famously as well.
But do listen to these latest recordings by British pianist James Brawn (now in his fifth instalment of the sonata cycle) and Ishay Shaer from Israel, who uphold the tradition with pride and vigour.
Brawn explores four sonatas from Beethoven's early period. The trio of Op. 10 Sonatas are as varied as one can get. The dramatics of the C minor sonata (No. 1) are contrasted with the humour of the F major sonata (No. 2), but both are eclipsed by the imposing D major sonata (No. 3), the longest of the three and one of his great early essays in the genre. Brawn instils an urgency and vitality that is hard to ignore and follows up with the genial G major sonata (Op. 14 No. 2).
From Beethoven's later years are the sonatas in A major (Op. 101) and E major (Op. 109), where he bridged the classical and romantic eras. Shaer captures the autumnal spirit, which is tempered by defiance and a fond look at past traditions. The finales of Op. 101 and 109 are a fugue and a theme and variations set respectively. Between these giants are 17 Bagatelles (Op. 119 and 126), miniatures which resemble shavings from a master's workbench. Some of these may be trifles (Op. 119 No. 10 lasts just 14 seconds), but would one trifle with gold dust?
Chang Tou Liang