Triad, the latest release by Icelandic pianist Vikingur (Heiðar) Ólafsson, isn’t a new album. It’s simply a fancy repackaging of his last three main releases for Deutsche Grammophon. This wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy if all three of those releases weren’t absolute corkers. There’s a disc of Bach–transcriptions both original, third-party, and by Bach himself–that was an easy 10/10 choice when we reviewed it here (see reviews archive). Both of the other two albums are similarly lofty achievements.
Ólafsson’s selection (and own ordering) of Philip Glass Études is, lack of completeness notwithstanding (or maybe because of it), as entertaining as it gets in these works. His supple pianism makes these seemingly simple pieces shine and glitter; the result is clearly atop the heap of the surprisingly sizable discography of Glass Études–alongside the wildly individual, ever-fascinating Anton Batagov’s (complete) recording. The fact that Ólafsson adds a string quartet in his encore performance of Étude No. 2, halfway through the recital, shows a playful side that convinces musically and further lightens the texture, even beyond his already varied touch.
Ólafsson’s album of Rameau, sprinkled with Debussy (or is it islands of colorful Debussy connected by baroque architectural structures?), isn’t a shade less impressive. The exquisite bell-like dotting of the Rameau can change, on a dime, into perfect legato-playing. You have to look to Alexandre Tharaud to find something similarly impressive; Ólafsson throws a bit more granite into the mix, though, to Tharaud’s soapstone.
I first heard the Juilliard-taught student of Ann Schein and Seymour Lipkin when he was a stiff tween performing at the Icelandic Ambassador’s residence back in the days. Already then his pianism was excellent, his manner understated. His image has changed, but none of the essentials. Finally: A major label artist who is actually worthy of the hype; an unpretentious musician where the music is the focus, not his (or her) personality, whose performances are better than his self-promotional showboating. If you’ve missed out on these albums before, this is an excellent way to catch up.