Jenny Lin: The Etudes Project Vol 1
Imaginative programme concepts have long been second nature to Jenny Lin, who launches an ‘Études Project’ that pairs works by the young New York-based composer collective Iceberg alongside relatively ‘established’ counterparts. The juxtapositions are fascinating. The jagged declamations and muffled filigree characterising Max Grafe’s Accretion complement the more firmly etched rhythmic intricacies of Messaien’s ‘Ile de feu’ Étude. And the whimsical scales and ambidextrous back-and-forth of Alex Burtzos’s dubiously titled Should the Wide World Roll Away makes for an odd yet ultimately convincing lead-in to Chopin’s bravura Op 10 No 4 Étude.
By contrast, the persistent trills and unpredictable register shifts in Yu-Chun Chien’s To the Convergence markedly contrast with the starker sound world of Toshio Hosokawa’s ‘2 Lines’. Derek Cooper’s ‘Unleashed’ is an effective study that’s largely cast in asymmetric unison lines. It naturally leads into Ruth Crawford Seeger’s texturally similar Study in Mixed Accents. Lin plays the Crawford slower and more sharply articulated now than she did for her 2002 all-Crawford recital on BIS, which contains three intriguingly different interpretations of the same piece.
On the other hand, I fail to divine any musical connection between Harry Stafylakis’s gnarly, unpredictable ‘Barbed Wire’ and Rachmaninov’s D minor Étude-tableau, Op 33 No 4. Likewise, Drake Andersen’s intriguingly discontinuous Walk seems completely unrelated to Scriabin’s Op 8 No 2 Étude. But there are loose commonalities between the unfettered rock influence in Jonathan Russ’s Knuckles and Philip Glass’s Étude No 13. Lin’s performance of the Glass, incidentally, is crisper and more varied in touch than the one in her Steinway & Sons complete Glass Études cycle.
There are a few instances where a piece that might sit well by itself winds up being overshadowed by its partner. As much as I appreciate the uncomplicated and attractive lyricism of Stephanie Ann Boyd’s Lilac, it sounds uncomfortably simplistic next to the voluptuous harmonic invention throughout Debussy’s 11th Étude. Likewise, the motoric momentum in parts of Will Healy’s ‘Trains’ more or less justifies its title, yet the music’s generic dissonance takes a back seat to the piece that follows, namely Ligeti’s ‘Désordre’. Lin, incidentally, plays the Ligeti wonderfully well, pedalling sparely and emphasising its multi-level melodic contours.
Whatever Lin has planned for Vol 2, you can be sure that this pianist will avoid routine like the plague, as she does with every new release.