Is there any kind of music that is out of bounds for the American pianist Jenny Lin's stylistic perfect pitch? Her range seems limitless with each new recording revealing a new facet of her musical personality. To date her repertoire on disc ranges from Schumann and Liszt through Mompou, the early Soviet experimentalists, and Ruth Crawford Seeger to modernists as diverse as John Cage and Valentin Silvestrov. A high point is one of the finest of the many recordings of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes And Fugues.
GET HAPPY: Virtuoso Showtunes For Piano. Jenny Lin, piano. Steinway & Sons, CD or download
Now we have yet another departure, a programme of 19 showtune transcriptions that follow the music's invitations to swing, romp, or turn reflective in a way that may remind listeners of Earl Wild's accounts of his own Gershwin transcriptions. In fact, three of the four Gershwin items on the programme are Wild's transcriptions, and they have nothing to fear in comparison with Wild's own recorded accounts. Listen to how she dispatches the elaborate filigree and high-speed passagework that Wild weaves around I Got Rhythm without letting them oversaturate the music and compromising its wit. The other "rhythm" number, Fascinating Rhythm shows off Lin's jaw-dropping virtuosity as being every bit as dazzling as Wild's.
Steinway & Sons, who produced this programme, obviously know as much about pianists as they do about pianos, as they demonstrate here, but curse them for not including any documentation with the download, the form in which most of us here in Bangkok will be acquiring it.
Three of the four Gershwin transcriptions are recognisably Wild's, but it would be nice to know who did some of the others, especially since several of them are remarkably creative in revealing aspects of the music that are less obvious in the original versions heard in recordings of the shows themselves.
Some sniffing around on the web revealed that the composer of Eliza In Ascot, a short theme and variations treatment of the Ascot Gavotte from Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady, is Stefan Malzew.
The innocuous tune sets him off in many directions as he peppers it with references not only to songs from the show itself (I Could Have Danced All Night), but to other musicals (Kern's Show Boat, for one) and beyond. It's a choice earful, and Lin relished all of the sudden stylistic shifts.
Google also offers enlightenment concerning Meditation On Laura, based on David Raksin's song from the 1944 film, and perhaps the most purely beautiful piece on the programme. It is the work of the pianist/composer Marc-Andre Hamelin, who pushes tonality almost to the breaking point without violating the famous melody. The effect is to coax out more of the mystery that was always an important part of the original song, and to connect it with the unique mood of Preminger's film. I doubt that even Hamelin himself could play it more ravishingly than Lin does here.
But it would have been thoughtful of the publisher to let listeners to the download version know who did the transcription of, for example, Richard Rogers's Carousel Waltz. You'll hear some Cage-like adjustment of the piano's sonority that intensifies the loneliness the music experiences before the familiar waltz tune breaks loose. The interpretation Lin plays of Harold Arlen's Get Happy also has a story to tell. The blues that the song's lyrics assure us are going to be chased away can be heard brooding in the harmonies at the beginning of the transcription, and again, Lin digs in to this aspect of the piece. But her playing is all bright light after the transcription really does get happy, especially after about 3:15.
Two transcriptions of Richard Rogers songs from The King And I _ The March Of The Siamese Children and Hello Young Lovers are fairly straightforward compared to elaborate renditions like the Laura and the Carousel Waltz numbers. Lin plays the march at a deliberate tempo that reminds us that this is a royal procession of children taking place in a palace, and responds with seductive warmth to Rogers's unforgettable melody in Lovers.
Richard Rogers was one of the great melodists in the history of music, and the best interpretations, both as conventional arrangements and jazz explorations of his songs know when to keep a certain distance and leave his original ideas intact.
The recorded sound Steinway provide for Lin's recital does justice to the music and to their piano, even in the iTunes download. The programme has taken up residence in my phone, and makes very good company during rush-hour taxi ordeals. We can only guess what kind of music Lin will give to us on her next release. In the meantime, you can have this one in just a couple of minutes as a download from iTunes or any of a number of other online music sites.
About the author
- Writer: Ung-Aang Talay