American Melting Pot CD: "The music is melancholic, dramatic, joyful, introspective, energetic, and haunting by turns. "
Concert pianist and Steinway Artist Susan Merdinger explains her rationale for the current album, “American Melting Pot,” in this way: “My goal performing, recording and compiling this ‘American Melting Pot’ CD of my live concert performances of music by American composers is to demonstrate not only my deep commitment to supporting the work of living composers of my own time, but also to demonstrate the rich and varied legacies of musical traditions that are embodied in composers who were both born in the USA as well as those who were immigrated to the USA and now call America ‘home.’ It is my hope that the true American spirit of welcoming immigrants and their assimilation into a large society which embraces diversity, inclusivity and the dissemination of ideas, both musical and otherwise, will be celebrated and exemplified in the works I have chosen for this compendium of American music.
“In these works we can hear the influences of musical styles emanating from or originating in China, Eastern and Western Europe, South America, and the USA. Indeed, American music is a fusion and integration of musical styles as our American society is indeed a ‘melting pot’ of which I am very proud to be a part. It has been my great privilege and honor to work with each of these talented and distinguished composers.”
What Ms. Merdinger doesn’t mention is that she also premiered each of the pieces presented here, and that most of the live selections on the album are those very première performances.
First up on the program is a six-movement work called Pieces of China (1985) by Pulitzer prizewinning composer Morton Gould (1913-1996). Ms. Merdinger premiered it in 1990 with the composer present, so we have to regard it as authoritative. My wife thought it sounded “like a Picasso painting,” which seems apt given the slightly askew musical portraits of Asia that Gould paints. Ms. Merdinger approaches them with her usual poise and grace, allowing her natural virtuosic talents to serve the music rather than vice versa.
Next is the Ballade in F-sharp minor (2012) by Argentinean-born composer Fernando Vazquez (b. 1962). Although the Ballade may be a short piece (a little over six minutes), it includes a pleasing variety of textures and tunes, which Ms. Merdinger captures with her equally pleasing, sensitive, and affecting style.
After that, we have the Piano Sonata “My New Beginning” Part 1 (2018) by Aaron Alter (b. 1955), a piece the composer dedicated to Ms. Merdinger. Alter says that his inspiration for the piece was the first movement of Beethoven’s “Walstein” Sonata, Op. 53. You may recognize bits of the Beethoven, and you may also enjoy the jazz and even rock variations that Alter places on them. Ms. Merdinger easily keeps pace with the music, providing it with a poise that other interpretations may miss.
Then, there is the two-part Toccata Gaucha (2008) by Uruguayan-born composer Elbio Barilari (b. 1952). Barilari is both a classical composer and a jazz musician, and one can hear elements of both idioms in the work. It is certainly the jazziest music Ms. Merdinger plays on the program, and if she’d like to pursue a parallel career I’m sure the jazz world would welcome her.
The final piece on the agenda is Shtetl Scenes by Russian-born composer Ilya Levinson (b. 1958). It recounts scenes in a small Jewish village in pre-World War II Eastern Europe. Here, Ms. Merdinger performs the trio version of the work, accompanied by David Yonan, violin, and Christopher Ferrer, cello. The music is melancholic, dramatic, joyful, introspective, energetic, and haunting by turns. The piece itself and the trio’s realization of it afforded some of my favorite moments in the album.
Various sound engineers worked with producer Susan Merdinger at various different venues. For the Morton Gould recording it was Tim Martyn at Merkin Concert Hall, New York City in 1990. For the Fernando Vasquez piece it was Hudson Fair at the Chicago Latin Music Festival, 2013. For the Aaron Alter work it was David Hill and Svetlana Belsky at Harrison Oaks Studio, Fair Oaks, CA in 2018. For the Elbio Barilari music it was Hudson Fair again at the Pianoforte Salon in Chicago, 2013. And for the Ilya Levinson recording, it was Edward Ingold at the Northbrook Public Library, Illinois, in 2016. Various degrees of applause follow each selection.
There is a remarkable similarity of sound on the album, considering that the selections were recorded over a twenty-six year timespan. There is some evidence of possible noise reduction in the sound, resulting in a slight dimming of the highest frequencies. Nevertheless, the engineers miked things closely enough to reveal good detail yet not so close as to overpower one’s listening room. More important, the sound appears rich and mildly resonant, much as a live piano might sound.
Classical Candor, John Puccio, August, 2020
"4 Stars- Susan Merdinger's winning collection of contemporary American piano works"
All of the compositions on this disc embrace tonality, melody, and explore a wide range of musical influences, including classical, popular, and folk elements. And in the main, the works are conceived for a virtuoso pianist, one with an impressive technique, as well as a sensitivity for a wide range of moods, colors, and styles. Throughout American Melting Pot, Merdinger demonstrates those qualities in abundance....The shimmering textures of the Vazquez Ballade are an intriguing foil to the angular and often percussive writing in Gould’s Pieces of China. And Merdinger proves expert in capturing the spirit of each.....Susan Merdinger has provided an important service by performing and recording contemporary American piano works that are of a very high caliber.
Fanfare Magazine, Ken Meltzer April 2020
"The Classical Style II"
Now, taking on sonatas by the masters, she again demonstrates her prodigous talents in "The Classical Style II," a term that refers both to the era of music to which Haydn, Mozert, and the early Beethoven belonged and to a book by pianist and historian Charles Rosen. Ms. Merdinger defines the "classical style" as that of "refinement, elegance, restraint, formality and tight organization structure." Yes, they're all here on display in Ms. Merdinger's playing....
Beethoven regarded No. 11 as the best of his early piano sonatas, and it has always remained popular with audiences. Listening to great pianists play it with such apparent ease, one cannot always understand what sublime complexity there is in the piece, probably the culmination of Beethoven's creative genius at the time. As always, it was a delight listening to Ms. Merdinger's rendering of the work. She imbues it with a golden glow, a mellow maturity that brings out the music's inherent brilliance and power. I especially enjoyed the poignant lyricism of the slow second movement. Ms. Merdinger never allows the music to sink into mere sentimentality but keeps it on the level of intelligent reflection. Then there's that closing movement where she sums up everything in virtuosic style.
Classical Candor, John Puccio, March 2020
"A Performance of Searing Intensity"
Seldom have I heard music-making by a modern-day violin-piano duo on this high a level... Every note, phrase and accent falls perfectly into place like diamonds on a tiara, and their emotional commitment to the music runs deep.
The Art Music Lounge, Lynn Bayley, March 6, 2020
American pianist Susan Merdinger reveals her love of color and palpable musical substance in a program that includes the music of four composers with very different artistic aims. Performing on a Steinway D, she throws herself into the music of Schubert, Brahms, Debussy and Liszt with her customary abandon, not neglecting the qualities of form, style, and nuance that make these composers what they are. It has always puzzled me why this artist has not become a household name in America by now – a mystery the present recital only deepens. The recital begins with the Sonata in B major, D575 by the 20-year old Franz Schubert. This 20-minute work plays much like a classical era sonata, but with differences that would soon become major landmarks as Schubert’s career progressed. In Merdinger’s hands, the lyricism has a wonderfully natural bloom in all the movements, revealing an easy spontaneity and innocence we do not find as readily in the composer’s later works. It is genial without lapsing into sentimentality. One would have to look hard for any passages that probe the darker side of life in this music that continually expresses a feeling of gemütlichkeit, a German word that conveys cheerfulness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and unhurriedness, qualities that would become rarer in Schubert’s later music. Brahms shows himself less at peace with the world in the first of his Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79. With the heightened intensity of its very opening, Rhapsody No. 1 in B minor makes a nice contrast to the more genial reflectiveness of No. 2 in G minor. Both possess abundant lyricism and reflect the vivid beauties of nature and the seething emotions of middle life (Brahms was 46, and was vacationing at the lakeside resort of Pörtschach when he composed them). Filled as it is with big chords, leaping arpeggios, parallel thirds and sixths, and rich harmonies, this is very romantic music indeed. Merdinger captures its glowing beauty, power, and vitality without letting the emotional content run away with her. Debussy’s three Estampes (block prints) reveal the impressionist composer at his most quintessential. In their delicate play of sound, color and reflections of light, the outer pieces Pagodes (Pagodas) and Jardins sous la Pluie (Gardens in the Rain) are filled with sensual beguilement and pleasant illusion as they create images of a temple reflected in water and the impetuous falling of a sudden, brief thundershower. The middle movement, La Soirée dans Grenade (Evening in Grenada), with the insistent pulsing of its habanera rhythms, is the high point of the program, to which it lends its title. Finally, the two Liszt selections provide Merdinger the opportunity to really “take it big,” something for which she is temperamentally inclined. The composer’s Concert Paraphrase of Rigoletto captures all the excitement of Verdi’s opera in just 81/2 minutes, including the elements of love, callous flirtation and anguish in the famous vocal quartet from Act IV. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor, with its alternation of deeply passionate slow moods and pulse-quickening fast dance music, has always been one of the world’s favorite Liszt showpieces. Susan Merdinger shows us why.
"Ethereal and atmospheric performance"
American Record Guide
Robert Sherman, The New York Times
Highland Park News/Sun-Times Media
"Merdinger casts her spell"
Certain passages simply run under her fingers as if the notes were being pulled out by some wonderful but invisible force beyond her control. I almost got the impression that, in some mysterious way, Schumann was being channeled through Merdinger: it’s that good.
Lynn Rene Bayley
Fanfare Magazine, April 2014
"Virtuosic, Refined, Statuesque"
Her playing, regardless of the composer, is always so deeply expressive, so strongly animated and driven forward by the power of the music itself....Best of all is that the quality behind her interpretations seems spontaneous and instinctive, and never fabricated.
Classical Music Sentinel, September 2014
"Radiant, energetic, aesthetically poised"
I would now have to count Ms. Merdinger's account of Carnaval among the outstanding recordings of the score, recordings that include in my experience those of Alicia De Larrocha, Cecile Licad, Mitsuko Uchida, Nelson Freire, Claudio Arrau, and a few others I've probably forgot.....Ms. Merdinger's playing is from the outset radiant, energetic, and aesthetically poised. When she needs to apply bravura showmanship, she's ready; when she needs a delicate touch, she's there; when she needs charisma or charm or poignancy, she's on top of the game. These portrayals of Schumann's characters and events sound beautiful, precise, and exciting. The big moments come through with enthusiasm and the soft moments are heartfelt. I loved every minute of her presentation.
John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, January 2014
"Schumann playing of eloquent expression and exquisite beauty"
Schumann's romantically-fancied dual personalities, whether of the passionate, outgoing Florestan or of the self-reflecting Eusebius, are met by Susan Merdinger with the unerring instincts of an artist, who one senses, has herself experienced the composer's emotional impulses. This is Schumann playing of eloquent expression and exquisite beauty, captured in a recording of distinction befitting this milestone achievement in Susan's career.
Fanfare Magazine, April 2014
"Merdinger has the magic touch"
…a fine sense of rubato which makes the plasticity of the music’s unfolding sound quite natural and unforced, yet constantly intriguing the listener with it subtle “teasing” of the phrases. In short, she sounds completely inside the music here, giving a performance both joyous and reflective at the same time....Not a single moment in this suite passes by the listener unattentively; everything is exquisitely detailed and full of life. In this suite, often so difficult to pull off, Merdinger has the magic touch.”
Lynn Rene Bayley
Fanfare Magazine, April 2014
FRENCH FANTASY: MUSIC FOR PIANO FOUR HANDS
"Flair and verve...Intimate and touching. Strongly Recommended"
..All in the spirit of good fun is exactly how Merdinger and Greene play it.....If Carnival of the Animals performed on piano four hands intrigues you, Merdinger and Greene certainly play it with the flair and verve it deserves.
Susan Merdinger and Steven Greene are competing in Dolly with a couple of classic recordings, one by Robert and Gaby Casadesus on a 1959 CBS Masterworks disc, and the other by the Labèque Sisters (Katia and Marielle) on a mid-1980s Philips CD. I’m fond of them both, but Merdinger and Greene are equally intimate and touching in these brief portraits of proud parents admiring their beautiful young child....This is an appealing program that can be equally enjoyed and appreciated by both children and adults, and it’s beautifully played by Merdinger and Greene. The recording, too, engineered by Edward Ingold, captures the players’ Steinway model B in a most pleasing acoustic setting. Strongly recommended.
Fanfare Magazine, October 2014
"Delightful playing superbly matched to the musical storytelling"
I’ve recently been listening to another Greene — Steven Greene. He and his wife Susan Merdinger have a new recording of music for piano four hands under the title “French Fantasy.” The disc, which contains a trim 50 minutes of music, finds Merdinger (prima) and Greene (seconda) taking on some famous and engaging compositions. They have a soft, gentle approach with the “Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saëns (transcription for one piano, four hands by Lucien Garban), and a child-like innocence with the “Dolly Suite” by Fauré. But my favorite work on the disc is Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” which features delightful playing superbly matched to the musical storytelling.
M.L Rantala, January 2016
Hyde Park Herald
Rosen could not have asked for a better champion of his book that has profoundly influenced pianists and scholars over the past forty years. As did Rosen before her, Merdinger avidly explores the many fascinating ways in which the three great figures of the era – Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven – challenged one another and built on each other’s discoveries.
"The Classical Style"
Phil Muse, Audio-Video Club of Atlanta
"Ebullient...Joie de vivre"
The Chicago-based pianist Susan Merdinger’s 2011–12 performances of Schumann’s Carnaval and Faschingsshwank aus Wien—appropriate discmates—communicate a sense of her excited engagement with the music, as if encountering it for the first time. Her phrasing is notably free and elastic, with rubatos that are sometimes quite original and exaggerated but never disruptive. Most of Carnaval’s 20 pieces are fast, and many are loud, which plays to Merdinger’s strengths; she’s a bold player with a big sound. Even In the second half of the most delicate piece, “Eusebius,” she doesn’t hesitate to play with a generous, full sonority. Carnaval is, in large part, a set of dances—Schubert’s waltzes were Schumann’s biggest influence—and Merdinger’s playing really dances. Technically, she’s up to the challenges of the work’s most difficult sections, such as the treacherous jumps in “Paganini”—handled unflinchingly—or the repeated notes of “Reconnaissance” a piece that Merdinger doesn’t just rattle off, but phrases with careful shape. But technique is somewhat beside the point when there are well over 100 technically competent recordings of the work. Merdinger’s Carnaval, like Rachmaninoff’s, Cortot’s, Hess’s, or Rubinstein’s, succeeds in presenting Schumann’s kaleidoscopic collection of short pieces as a coherent structure that becomes a showpiece for a personal take on the music. (Incidentally, she wisely doesn’t play the musical anagrams called “Sphinxes” that Schumann has in the score, meant for the eyes only).
Her performance of Faschingsshwank aus Wien (the title is usually translated—awkwardly—as “Carnival Jest from Vienna”), a set of five pieces, three of which are longer and more extended than any of Carnaval’s, is equally fine. The extended opening and closing movements have the swagger and caprice that they need, and Merdinger takes more opportunity to stretch and savor lyrical lines with flexible rubato where most pianists are much more straight.
Retrospection is a compilation of remastered recordings of concert performances from 1983–84, when Merdinger was a student at the Yale School of Music. My favorite performance among them is the opening selection, Bach’s cheerful Toccata in G, in a buoyant reading that introduces the high spirits of Merdinger’s musical personality. Another highlight is the Mendelssohn Rondo Capriccioso that concludes the disc, in which Merdinger delivers a fervent, high-powered introduction and an ebullient Scherzo that suggests the joie de vivre of her Schumann decades later. In between are some other fine performances, notably a fleet, committed sounding “Jardins sous la pluie” from Debussy’s Estampes, but the Schumann disc represents the special achievement of a mature pianist fully in her element.
Paul Orgel, Fanfare Magazine
Soiree includes music by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, and Franz Liszt - a formidable combination that works beautifully as separate tracks and as a complete album. The opening tracks are the four-movement Schubert Sonata in B major, D. 575, K. 147. Schubert is one of my favorite classical composers, but I’ve never attempted this sonata, which is lighter and more upbeat than much of his music. Composed when Schubert was only twenty, Merdinger imbues the music with youthful zest and playfulness. The two Brahms Rhapsodies (Op. 79) are pieces I dearly love and have worked on with a couple of my advanced students over the years. I have never heard them played to such perfection, with passion and power as well as tenderness where the music calls for it. Brava! Debussy’s three-movement “Estampes” is a colorful and very challenging work very different from Schubert’s or Brahms’ music, but Merdinger makes it her own with precision and energy. The two Liszt pieces are his “Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto” and his “Hungarian Rhapsody #12 in C# minor,” and both are breathtaking!
Very highly recommended! Kathy Parsons, Mainly Piano
Susan Merdinger offered a daring, enormously joyous presentation of Schumann’s Carnaval, which captured and transfixed the audience…Her fast, strong technique was unbelievable…Her grasp of the large structural sweep of Beethoven’s Op. 109 was truly amazing, and her well thought out shaping of the multi-layered variations demonstrated great insight...Breathtaking..Refreshing. Cries of bravo and enthusiastic applause were the thanks this musician received for her generously endowed gifts.”
Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, Germany
"Impressive Young Artist"
A spectacular piano concert…Susan Merdinger combines great musical sensibility with enormous technical facility…
Saarbrucken Zeitung, Germany
"Tender and impassioned"
…Plenty of youthful vigor and commitment…
An exhilarating, whirlwind performance.
The Glasgow Herald, Scotland
"Stylish, Elegant Mozart, Exciting Gershwin"
Miss Merdinger commands a surprising power at the piano…quick and spiritual reaction, the highest ability and experience….
Frankfurter Neue Presse, Germany
In this era of pianists we have pianists galore, but pianists who are real artists at the same time are very rare indeed. Susan Merdinger is one of them, I am sure… (she) shows her mastery of the piano in endless differentiation. Her musicality and her intuition originate directly from her pure heart… Susan Merdinger is a most promising pianist whose honesty will be honored with a magnificent future.
Het Vaderland, Holland
With 40 years of experience as a concert manager, and having heard thousands of pianists, and having accepted only two hundred of them, I may tell you that Ms. Merdinger’s playing is so special since it not only has the refined musicality and astounding technique, but also the maturity and the phantasy which makes her music so sparkling…We feel that she is the top among the American pianists of her generation.
Harry de Freese, International Concert Administration
"One of the great pianists of all time"
...Susan’s playing of the piece radiates the inner glow of real warmth and well-being that spring from the pages of one of Schubert’s more optimistic and playful works, a score free of the dark and disturbing currents that swirl menacingly though much of his music. Schubert sounds genuinely happy in this sonata, and so does Susan Merdinger.
Moving on to the Brahms Rhapsodies, I can truly say that I am agape at the declamatory power with which Susan delivers these works. The only word I can think of to describe her readings and her playing is volcanic. Her tempos in both Rhapsodies are fast, faster than I think I’ve ever heard these pieces played before. But it’s not just the energy and thrust with which she launches into these scores that make her performances so gripping; from bar one, the listener is plunged into a boiling, roiling, white-hot cauldron of emotional turmoil. It’s as if we’ve been dropped into the midst of Jupiter’s storm that has already been raging for hundreds of years without end before we got there.... I spoke above of Susan’s gripping intensity from bar one; I’ll also say that bar none, these are the most potent and exciting performances of Brahms’s Rhapsodies I’ve personally ever encountered. If she never plays another note for the rest of her life— perish the thought—Susan’s playing of these two works alone would make her, in my book, one of the great pianists of all time.
Jerry Dubins, Fanfare Magazine 11/2014
"Spellbound from first note to last"
My first exposure to Susan Merdinger’s playing was so positive that I jumped at the chance to review this, her latest CD..... In the Debussy, Merdinger plays with a tighter style and clear sense of structure. These are simply marvelous performances of the Estampes. She sets and maintains a magical mood here; I was spellbound from first note to last.
In Liszt’s overblown showstopper based on the quartet from Rigoletto, Merdinger actually makes music of it by her relaxation of tempo and imaginative phrasing. Whether Liszt himself would have played in this style is of course unknown, but although the gist of the piece is to show off one’s technique Merdinger finds new and lovely things to say in it. The little flourishes at the ends of her phrases are tossed off in a way that reminded me of snowflakes falling in moonlight. Of course her paying of the theme is not in the same style or structure as the original, but neither is Liszt’s music. She concludes her recital with an imaginative and surprisingly Hungarian-sounding rendition of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, making the music almost float in the air during the soft, slow passages, a trick I’ve not heard another pianist pull off.
In toto, then, an interesting and thoughtful recital by a thinking pianist who doesn’t fit into a cookie-cutter style. Recommended.
Fanfare Magazine, Lynn René Bayley 11/2014
"Perfect balance and sense of timing"
Performing on a 7-foot Steinway B ideally suited for the music at hand, the team of pianists Susan Merdinger and Steven Greene give us a sparkling recital of French music for the four hands repertoire. On the program are choice works by Camille Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Fauré’, and Maurice Ravel that educators have frequently used for the music appreciation of children. The smoothly integrated performances by spouses Merdinger and Greene have a perfect balance and sense of timing. As engineered by Ed Ingold, the CD sounds very beautiful.
Phil Muse, Audio-Video Club of Atlanta December 2014
"Brilliant Piano Playing"
Those fortunate enough to attend last Sunday's recital were well-rewarded...Ms. Merdinger opened her recital with three short preludes by Gershwin, all of which were rendered with the rhythmic vitality and suaveness essential to making that composer's music convincing... There then followed what was perhaps the most challenging composition on the program, the famous "Wanderer" Fantasie by Schubert. This work, in the hands of less competent pianists can sound as though it were written against, rather than for the piano. Such was not the case when Ms. Susan Merdinger brought her formidable talents to bare upon it. She was able to navigate even the most treacherous passages with a skill that made it seem deceptively easy at times, and with an interpretation that showed both intelligence and originality.
The enthusiastic response of the audience brought Ms. Merdinger back to the stage for an encore. She chose a Moskowski etude, full of "sparklers" as she said, and a lighter touch executing keyboard pyro-technics one couldn't have imagined.
It was a delightful afternoon of brilliant piano playing and the public can look forward to hearing Ms. Merdinger in the role of soloist....
Richard Karpen, Composer and Music Critic, World Art and Craft Magazine
Merdinger plays with great amounts of energy, a good feel for romantic and impressionistic repertoire, plenty of passion and power and a considerable range of tonal color and shadings…Her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 52 in E-flat major showed her ability to get around the keys quickly and toss off lots of flashy passagework...In Debussy’s “Estampes” and “L’Isle Joyeuse”, the pianist summoned interesting and lovely tone colors, delicately placed cascading figuration and well-placed harmonic voicing...The Sonata in B major, Op. 147 by Schubert was played with care and pleasant touch and pedal effects...Lovely lyrical moments... Sparkle and zip!
Frances Brancaleone, Gannett Westchester/Rockland Newspapers
"Merdinger and Greene performed with charm, sensitivity and bravado"…. The playing sparkled and revealed unusual maturity and a considerable range of pianistic technique.
The New Haven Register
"Exciting performance here by Susan Merdinger"… of Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse”…Wow! That’s quite something! Obviously, Morton Gould’s “Pieces of China” has a quirky humor and flair to it that’s very special and you play it that way too…The critic in the Glasgow Herald referred to “Plenty of youthful vigor and commitment and an exhilarating, whirlwind performance” and that would apply, I think, to the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor we’ve just heard.
WQXR: The Listening Room- Robert Sherman
"Bravo - Keep making music!"
I want to express my pleasure not only of your interpretation of my work, but with your whole concert at Merkin Concert Hall. I thought your performance of my “Pieces of China” was excellent- as I did the Haydn and the rest of the program.
Morton Gould, Composer and President of ASCAP
Susan Merdinger presents a broad and well-rounded solo program on Soirée – Schubert, Brahms, Debussy, Liszt (Sheridan Music Studio 13434 7). Beginning with the Schubert Sonata in B Major D.575 K.147, she quickly confirms the composer’s predilection for song. She phrases the two principal ideas of the opening movement beautifully as if they had lyrics ready to be sung. The second movement offers a beautiful opening that first appears in vertical hymn-like form but subsequently melts into a series of fluid variations that Merdinger plays with great affection. The final two movements are very dance-like, each offering a brief middle section where Merdinger finds lied-like material that she emphasizes before reverting to the rhythmic drive that concludes them both.
Having both Brahms Rhapsodies on the same disc makes for interesting comparisons. Here too, Merdinger finds the two principal ideas in each work and carefully follows their course through Brahms’ dense harmonies. The Rhapsody in B Minor Op.79 No.1’s middle section is significantly shorter than the G Minor Op.79 No.2’s and offers less time to linger with the material. But Merdinger counters this brevity with heightened intensity and sense of mystery.
Merdinger’s performance of the Debussy Estampes is a credit to her stylistic versatility, moving convincingly from Schubert and Brahms into the impressionistic tonalities of Pagodes and Jardins sous la pluie. The closing tracks with Concert Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto and the Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 reveal a pianist unbound, exercising the virtuosity and disciplined abandon required by Liszt.
French Fantasy CD:
There’s a good deal of serious stuff in the body of works for piano four hands. There’s also a more light-hearted tradition that is written with children in mind. It’s here that we find the popular works by Ravel, Saint-Saëns and Fauré that appear on French Fantasy – Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Ravel (Sheridan Music Studio 16129 9). Pianists Steven Greene and Susan Merdinger clearly enjoy playing this material. While set against a background of childlike simplicity, there are plenty of moments where the composers speak profoundly.
Carnival of the Animals is replete with colourful imagery. Merdinger and Greene have a great deal of fun with this, romping through Saint-Saëns’ pages with energy and style. Their performance of Aquarium is noteworthy for its mystical fluidity while the Finale delivers the entertaining pulse of a high-stepping chorus line. Tortoises, Kangaroos and The Elephant also offer a generous dose of good keyboard humour – a reminder of why this set is so enduringly popular.
Fauré’s Dolly Suite is a more introspective and tender work and the pianists explore this change of character effectively in Berceuse and Tendresse. Pas Espagnol and Kitty-Valse balance the suite with optimism and sparkle.
The disc concludes with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. Ravel’s harmonic language sets the suite apart from the other two works. It gives Merdinger and Greene the opportunity to approach the music with more attention to its subtleties. They are more seriously engaged in this music but never at the expense of its youthful focus.
Alex Baran for "Keyed In", Whole Note Magazine, September 2016
In the News
“"Pianist and orchestra alike found the central joy and friskiness of the music"” - ML Rantala