Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2023: Piano Category

Monday, September 4, 2023

Explore the six albums that have been shortlisted for the Piano Award at this year's Gramophone Classical Music Awards

The Piano category in this year's Gramophone Awards Shortlist is impressively strong, featuring recordings from Leif Ove Andsnes, Bertrand Chamayou, Benjamin Grosvenor, Marc-André Hamelin, Krystian Zimerman and, an astounding feat for an amateur pianist, Paul Wee. Last year's winning recording in this category was Dame Mitsuko Uchida’s account of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations for Decca Classics

You can explore this year's six nominees below, or the complete Shortlist in our free digital magazine

The 2023 Piano Award is sponsored by Yamaha.

Piano Award 2023: The Shortlist

Beethoven. Mozart

Beethoven Symphony No 3, ‘Eroica’, Op 55 (transcr Liszt) Mozart Piano Concerto No 20, K466 (transcr Alkan)

Paul Wee pf


Beethoven’s symphonies as rethought by Liszt are, unlike the Mozart-Alkan, almost commonplace these days. What the Third, in particular, gains by being heard in this form is the single-mindedness of its invention, the ferocious tautness of his symphonic vision. So is Wee up to it? Oh yes, absolutely. And, like the Mozart, his tempos are part of that success: he brings a real élan to the opening movement, conveying Beethoven’s obsessiveness without ever becoming aggressive. The sheer audacity of the composer’s shifting tonalities, too, is illuminated here to rare effect... Harriet Smith

Bolcom ‘The Complete Rags’

Marc-André Hamelin pf


The last rag on the disc is Brass Knuckles (1969), written in collaboration with William Albright, and bears instructions such as ‘brutish’ and ‘loutish’. Hamelin is a pianist who loves interpreting this kind of instruction. Indeed, Bolcom is lucky in having such a musician to provide him with these authoritative accounts of his music. Individual rags will undoubtedly pop up on recital discs from time to time (at least, they should) but any further ‘Complete Rags’ will be completely redundant. Hamelin’s razor-sharp rhythmic acuity and precise accentuation in tandem with his customary nonchalant dexterity would, on their own, be sufficient for the success of this release, but there are other things: a sophisticated palette, a deep tenderness, a mischievous sense of humour and the chameleon’s ability to convince you that he is not a classical pianist but, first and foremost, a successor to James P Johnson. There is more. I doubt if there’s another pianist on the planet who, after giving us a revelatory two-disc survey of CPE Bach (2/22), could so adroitly turn his attention to late 20th-century ragtime. The man is a miracle. Another Gramophone Award nomination beckons... Jeremy Nicholas

Brahms. C & R Schumann

Brahms Three Piano Pieces, Op 117 C Schumann Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op 20 R Schumann Abendlied, Op 85 No 12. Blumenstück, Op 19. Kreisleriana, Op 16. Piano Sonata No 3 – Quasi variazioni (Andantino de Clara Wieck). Romanze, Op 28 No 2

Benjamin Grosvenor pf


In her excellent booklet notes, Katy Hamilton quotes Clara Wieck (still Robert Schumann’s fiancée) on Kreisleriana: ‘Sometimes your music actually frightens me.’ You might well share her apprehension if you listen to Josef Hofmann’s live performance (unfortunately abridged) from his Casimir Hall recital in 1938 – an impulsive, even feral reading that amplifies the music’s unruliness, most dramatically through its promotion of secondary voices (IPA, 3/77). At the other end of the interpretative spectrum, we have Arthur Rubinstein’s luxurious recording, which would surely have assuaged Clara’s anxieties (RCA, 12/70). Other pianists, of course, fall between these extremes but few hit the sweet spot as artfully as Benjamin Grosvenor.

To pick up on the word ‘sweet’: Grosvenor is rightly celebrated for finesse in Romantic music’s more private moments, and that sensitivity is plentiful here. The opening section of the second movement is representative. With its lovingly caressed phrases, its luminous sound and its daring (but totally convincing) stretching of the ritardando leading into the first Intermezzo, it’s the kind of playing that draws you in. The aching sense of yearning in the B section of the fourth movement (beginning at 1’49”) will likewise leave you spellbound. More generally, throughout the performance, he’s acutely attuned to harmonic nuances, and he makes sure to give each repetition of a phrase a slightly different colour and flavour, managing to do so with such natural ease that it never sounds finicky... Peter J Rabinowitz

Dvořák Poetic Tone Pictures, Op 85 B161

Leif Ove Andsnes pf

Sony Classical

The cycle begins with ‘Twilight Way’ (the German title translates better as ‘Nocturnal Walk’). At a time of day when most of us are winding down and considering the first glass of something, the Czechs, if Dvořák is anything to go by, become hyperactive and boisterous. It is one of several titles that does not reflect the music. ‘Spring Song’, one of the loveliest items here (Andsnes played it at the Gramophone Awards ceremony), is more regretful and yearning than full of the joys of. ‘Peasant’s Ballad’ has all the hallmarks of a Czech folk song sung by a peasant but who is also a virtuoso pianist. No 6, given here as ‘Sorrowful Reverie’ (‘Vzpomínání’ in Czech: ‘Memories’), is an enchanting tango. ‘Furiant’, ‘Goblins’ Dance’ and ‘Bacchanal’ (Nos 7, 8 and 10 respectively) are close relatives of the Slavonic Dances and thus more recognisable as ‘by Dvořák’... Jeremy Nicholas


Cheung Live Ear Emission! Harvey Tombeau de Messiaen Kurtág … humble regard sur Olivier Messiaen … Messiaen Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus Murail Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire … Takemitsu Rain Tree Sketch II

Bertrand Chamayou pf


It’s always a thrill, and a privilege, to return to Messiaen’s mighty masterpiece. And this new one got me thinking about musical legacy. Without the supreme example of Yvonne Loriod – Messiaen’s muse, champion and later wife – who knows how well Vingt Regards might have fared? And she in turn taught and inspired the next generation of artists, Pierre-Laurent Aimard among them.

Above all, what impresses is how profoundly nuanced his playing is – holding the sometimes conflicting elements in balance: in the fourth Regard, for instance, the ‘Gaze of the Virgin’, Chamayou lulls you with the softness of his playing, while also conveying a disquietingly obsessive quality. In the fifth (‘Gaze of the Son upon the Son’), even if he can’t quite match Osborne’s daringly hushed playing, the way he introduces the birdsong with such an improvisatory élan is beautifully judged. In the sixth, ‘By Him was everything made’, Chamayou truly lets rip, similar in tempo to Osborne but more trenchant; Loriod, by comparison, almost seems to be doing slow practice at this point... Harriet Smith


Masques, Op 34. Mazurkas, Op 50 – No 13; No 14; No 15; No 16. Preludes, Op 1 – No 1; No 2; No 7; No 8. Variations on a Polish Folk Theme, Op 10

Krystian Zimerman pf


Placed last on the programme, the Op 10 Variations on a Polish Folk Theme takes us back to the composer’s student days, 11 or 12 years before Masques. Intrinsically it may be the least interesting of the pieces on the disc, since it is unashamedly written for effect and excess, some of it tongue-in-cheek (as markings such as poco buffo tell us). Yet it undoubtedly reminds us of the remarkable distance Szymanowski travelled between the Variations and Masques. Zimerman lavishes as much fantasy, expressive freedom and subtlety on it as on the rest of programme, doing a superb job in decluttering the textures, helped by predictably first-rate recording quality. Does Zimerman have more Szymanowski planned? We can only hope... David Fanning

Explore all of this year's shortlisted albums in our FREE digital magazine – out now!

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