When the French say "Encore!" they actually mean "Not again!" And that’s how jaded record collectors might feel toward another album of piano encores. (The French yell "bis" to demand an extra piece at the end of a recital.) Yet Dmitry Paperno’s Uncommon Encores explodes the notion that an encores album means showy musical chestnuts, roasted too many times over.
Russian-born Paperno delivers deep, powerful performances of 16 lesser-recorded piano miniatures. He magnifies and reveals these rich musical microcosms with a three-dimensional pianism that takes advantage of the instrument’s full sonorities.
A rarity is the Cancione y Danza No. 1 by Federico Mompou, the Spanish (Catalan) composer who specialized in small-scale piano pieces. "Many of his pastels are of an extraordinary haunting . . . elegance," wrote Lionel Salter in the New Grove Dictionary (1980). Mompou’s "fondness of ostinato figures and bell sound often lends an incantatory quality to his poetic evocations."
Even the one Rachmaninoff piece, the Polichinelle, Op. 3, No. 4, is seldom heard.
A beguiling, spiritual performance of Siloti’s transcription of Bach’s Prelude in B minor opens the program. Scarlatti’s Sonata in B minor is beautiful and dramatic, with a sunny radiance and eternally fresh-sounding melodies. Sgambati’s transcription of Gluck’s Mélodie d’Orfée is achingly lovely and seems perfect for a tenderly romantic movie scene. Particularly interesting in Shchedrin’s suspenseful yet jazzy Basso Ostinato.
Russian pianist and teacher Leah Levinson’s transcription of Schumann’s song "Der Nussbaum" (The Nut Tree) receives its first-ever recording. "An amazing achievement for a one-piece composer," Paperno writes in the liner notes. "She gave me the piece as soon as she finally wrote it down in the early 1960s."
Paperno’s liner notes, like the recording, are uncommon, informative and quite touching. A mature artist, Paperno offers stimulating first-person accounts of his relationships with the pieces and their performance challenges. Paperno tells of his first visit with Shchedrin, "my closest friend from my years in what used to be the USSR." Unable to find a copy of the popular Basso Ostinato score, Paperno went to the composer’s Moscow apartment and came away with a personally inscribed copy.