A “Bravo” for Joshua Pierce’s “Bravura”

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Compilations of short works for piano with orchestra don’t appear often enough. After all, doesn’t the “mini-concerto” genre deserve much more attention than it usually gets? What’s more, we’re spoiled for repertoire.

All of this disc’s selections have previously appeared in pianist Joshua Pierce’s prolific discography, except for his stylishly dapper performance of Duke Ellington’s New World A-Comin’ and his world premiere recording of Paul Turok’s Ragtime Caprice. To be honest, the latter mainly holds interest for what Pierce’s nimble fingers make of the keyboard writing, yet the composition basically sounds like a little Joplin, a little Gershwin, a little John Alden Carpenter, a little Grieg, a little Virgil Thomson, a little this, a little that, and lots of anonymous. To hear Turok’s original voice, check out his Clarinet Sonata, or his Passacaglia for Piano.

Some listeners may find Pierce’s virtuosity extroverted to the point of aggressive in the Chopin “Là ci darem” Variations, although such a no-holds-barred approach compels you to consider Litolff’s Scherzo from an unconventional yet plausibly edgy vantage point. I’ve heard more glittery and refined versions of the Saint-Saëns “Wedding Cake” from Louis Lortie and Joel Fan. But check out Pierce’s rhythmic élan in the Weber/Liszt Polonaise’s swaggering finale and in the Gershwin “I Got Rhythm” Variations.

As for the Warsaw Concerto, the daddy of all ersatz Romantic movie concertos, Pierce simply sweeps through it, aiming for the jugular, emoting at every crescendo, and somehow making the descending broken-chord cadenza sound noble. Conductor Kirk Trevor and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra provide sympathetic and galvanic support throughout. The sonics are variable, ranging from boxy in the Warsaw Concerto to up-close in the Litolff, and robust in the Chopin. But that matters little. Certainly “Bravura” deserves an overall “Bravo”.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Bravura: Favorite Showpieces for Piano & Orchestra
Reference Recording: None for this collection

GEORGE GERSHWIN: Variations on “I Got Rhythm”
FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN: Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” Op. 2
CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS: Caprice-Valse Op. 76 (“Wedding Cake”)
CARL MARIA VON WEBER: Polonaise Brilliante Op. 72 (arr. Franz Liszt)
PAUL TUROK: Ragtime Caprice Op. 65 (1977)
DUKE ELLINGTON: New World A-Comin’
HENRY LITOLFF: Concerto Symphonique No. 4 in D minor Op. 102: Scherzo

  • Joshua Pierce (piano)
  • Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor

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