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Aki Kuroda: Firebird, 20th Century Transcriptions for Piano

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Aki Kuroda: Firebird
20th Century Transcriptions for Piano
(Artist Page)

Aki Kuroda on Piano

Gustav Mahler – Yoichi Sugiyama: “Super Adagietto”
“Intermezzo VIII”

Igor Stravinsky – Guido Agosti, L’oiseau de feu.

Claude Debussy – Leonard Borwick, Prélude á L’après-midi d’un faune, L. 86.

Arnold Schoenberg – Eduard Steuermann, Kammersymphonie No. 1 in E major, Op. 9.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 25, 2018

This CD is a series of gorgeous piano transcriptions of four, early 20th century, European orchestral works, performed by Aki Kuroda. Ms. Kuroda is a prize-winning solo pianist and brings fresh luminosity to Mahler’s Adagietto, the eighth Intermezzo of his Fifth Symphony, transcribed by the Japanese composer, Yoichi Sugiyama, to Stravinsky’s L’oiseau de feu, also known as The Firebird, transcribed by the Italian pianist, Guido Agosti, to Debussy’s Prélude á L’après-midi d’un faune, also known as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, transcribed by the English pianist, Leonard Borwick, and to Schoenberg’s Kammersymphonie No. 1 in E major, Op. 9, transcribed by Schoenberg’s colleague, Eduard Steuermann.

The Mahler and Debussy works are each on one track, and the remaining seven album tracks are the three movements of the Stravinsky work and the four of the Schoenberg work. My perspective on this music is enhanced with many years of viewings of the ballets set to the Stravinsky and Debussy works, and I am familiar with the Mahler from symphonic concerts. Ms. Kuroda, an extraordinarily sensitive and masterful pianist, synthesizes the poignancy and drama inherent in this gripping recording, also thanks to the thoughtful piano transcribers, and highlights the eloquence and yearning inherent in each work. I look forward to many listening experiences of this stunning music.

Notable tracks:

#1 – Super Adagietto – Composed by G. Mahler / Y. Sugiyama. Mahler had composed this “Adagietto” as a musical love letter to his soon-to-be-fiancée, Alma, to persuade her to marry him. The composition worked, not only for Alma, but also for his Fifth Symphony. I have listened to Mahler’s “Adagietto” often on recordings and in an incredible Fifth Symphony concert at Carnegie Hall. In concert, this Intermezzo is performed solely by the string section, and the listening is spellbinding. It is amazing, that when the music falls silent, at times, then develops into persuasive yearning and tonal pleading, Ms. Kuroda was able to find the softest, whispering notes. Then, springing from silence, emerges a dramatic swell of melodic emotionality.

#2 – Danse infernal du roi - Composed by I. Stravinsky / G. Agosti. Stravinsky’s score for his ballet, The Firebird, choreographed by Fokine in 1910 for the Ballets Russes, and later by Balanchine, among others, is orchestrally powerful, electric, and at times softly shimmering. The album’s second track features the first movement, a fiery dance, which, on solo piano transcription, brings a theatrical jolt to the listening. Here, more importantly, we hear Ms. Kuroda’s flashes and trills in swirling speed, style, and sound, making me think of Kastchei the wizard in Balanchine’s staging of the introduction to this musical sequence. Ms. Kuroda performs seamlessly through the tracks, one to the next.

#5 – Prélude á L’après-midi d’un faune – Composed by C. Debussy / L. Borwick. This Debussy score for Nijinsky’s 1912 ballet for the Ballets Russes, which I have seen in various choreographies, with none as pristinely pure to the music as Nijinsky’s, is most challenging as a piano transcription, when one thinks of the glistening, lonely flute introduction to the orchestral work. Ms. Kuroda brings out the unfolding drama of the languid, self-absorbed faun and sensual, silky nymphs with rich, tonal details and attention to their imaginary, parallel interactions. In contrast to the electric drama of The Firebird, Prélude… is impressionistic, intriguing, inviting.

#6 – Langsam - Sehr rasch – Composed by A. Schoenberg / E. Steuermann. The Schoenberg Kammersymphonie No. 1, also called Chamber Symphony No. 1, was composed in 1906 and debuted the following year in Vienna, under Schoenberg’s baton. It was composed for 15 wind instruments and is performed continuously as one movement, although programmatically it is listed with several movements. On this album, Ms. Kuroda performs four transcribed movements, and the first, introductory movement was the most enticing. I heard elements evocative of Poulenc and Debussy, now and then, atonality amidst harmony, glasslike trills and dissonant punctuations. After a luring introduction, the overall effect is contemporary and charged. At the finale of the final, fourth track, the symphony ends in dynamic, driven waves of vivacity.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at