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Unwavering conviction and … constantly expressive musicality

Myron Silberstein, Fanfare

My first item of praise for this recording is its programming. Readers familiar with my reviews and Want Lists know that I am highly sympathetic to musicians who rescue repertoire from obscurity. But there are two caveats to my sympathy: First, the music’s obscurity must be undeserved; second, the performance must be of service to the music—a poor performance hinders the music’s cause more than the mere act of making it available to listeners helps.

Hiroaki Takenouchi wins on both these counts: William Sterndale Bennett’s First Piano Sonata is a very good piece of music that deserves to be heard, and Takenouchi’s interpretation and execution make a strong case for it. Even better, Takenouchi’s programming places the Bennett in a context that may attract mainstream listeners.

The current program has a sound, specific musicological connection: Schumann and Bennett were personal friends, Schumann was a passionate advocate for Bennett’s music, and Schumann dedicated his Symphonic Études to Bennett.

Bennett himself dedicated his op. 16 Fantasie to Schumann, which would have made it an even more fitting discmate from a musicological perspective. From a purely musical perspective, though, the sonata complements Schumann’s Études very well. The four-movement, 36-minute sonata is ambitious, soul-searching, and intimidatingly virtuosic.

Takenouchi plays it with unwavering conviction and with constantly expressive musicality. The first movement in particular requires a long view, and Takenouchi understands where transitional material is going, how sequences build, and how musical material develops.

Takenouchi’s playing of the Schumann is as attentive, thoughtful, expressive, and impressive as his playing of the Bennett. The Études’ considerable technical demands pose no apparent problem for him, and he plays the opening and the slower variations with a great deal of grandeur.

In short, this recording is a refreshing find: an introduction to repertoire that most listeners have surely never heard, and a thoroughly reputable performance of a canonical favorite. The engineering is resonant and live-sounding, albeit a bit too close. Recommended, with minor caveats.

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A hugely enjoyable listen, played with infectious authority

The Arts Desk, Graham Rickson

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
Hiroaki Takenouchi does the piece proud

British Music Society, Michael Round

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
Exhilarating playing here from pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi

The Guardian, Stephen Pritchard

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
Takenouchi handles this with bravura ease and a warm, refined sound

Crossed Eyed Pianist, Fran Wilson

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
Romantically affluent, poundingly sonorous and rich in pathos

MusicWeb International, Rob Barnett

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
Broad expressive capacity…..superb technical abilities

Record Geijutsu, Shinnosuke Nagai

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
Rich in tone and possessing an enviably secure technique – 5 Stars

Classical Ear, Andrew Achenbach

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
Brilliantly played by Takenouchi

End Notes – The Quarterly Review, Stuart Millson

Confidence, conviction and tremendous panache

Em Marshall-Luck, Albion Magazine

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett And Schumann
His playing is rich, dazzling and intelligently shaped

Sunday Times, Stephen Pettitt
Sterndale Bennett and Schumann – Hiroaki Takenouchi

Movingly Played

MusicWeb International, John France

“My major discovery on this CD was the only piece by a British composer – Ernest Walker’s heartbreakingly, beautiful Study (not a Prelude as given in the notes) for the left hand alone, op. 47 (1931). Better known for his seminal A History of Music in England, Walker was a composer, organist and pianist. The present work was one of three written for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm during the First World War. The Study is deeply felt, largely exploiting the lower registers of the piano and demanding a good legato technique. It is movingly played here by Hiroaki Takenouchi.”


He is unfailingly convincing, his playing thoughtful, lyrical and spontaneous

The Sunday Times, Stephen Pettitt

A convincing advocate

American Record Guide, Don O’Connor

“The performances are excellent. Takenouchi’s skill and, as important, his belief in the music makes him a convincing advocate. Yates and the RNSO capably abet a worthy enterprise.”

Finely played

Gramophone, David Fanning

“Hiroaki Takenouchi […] is impeccable in his pianism and unfailing in his idiomatic grasp.”

“Once again finely played by Takenouchi, this too is a must-have for anyone interested in the post-history of the Romantic piano concerto. With decent orchestral support and recording, and excellent documentation, it all adds up to a more than welcome issue.”

Yates and Takenouchi revive Russian and British concertos

The modem rediscovery of Georgy Catoirc’s modestly proportioned oeuvre was kick-started by Marc-Andre Hamelin’s 1999 Hyperion recital (1/00- soon to reappear on Helios). Since then the chamber music has been quite well served, leaving just the songs and orchestral works in search of modern champions.

The Piano Concerto was composed in 1906-09, according to most catalogues, though its first performer, Alexander Goldenweiser, gave 1911 as the date of completion. Dutton do not claim theirs as a first-ever recording; though if Aima Zassimova’s lavish documentary study (Berlin, Verlag Emst Kuhn: 2011) is to be trusted, it would seem to be so. Like all Catoire’s instrumental works, the Concerto bears the mark of his close encounters with Tchaikovsky, Taneyev and Scriabin. Accomplished pianist and thoroughly trained composer that he was, the music always falls gratefully on the ear, though in terms of surprise, delight or individuality it lags far behind the likes of, say, Cesar Franck, whose Symphonic Variations loom large behind the 19-minute first movement. Any limitations in the music’s effect are surely no fault of Hiroaki Takenouchi, however, who is impeccable in his pianism and unfailing in his idiomatic grasp.

The adventurous spirit of this young Japanese-bom, London-based pianist also gives us the Second Concerto (1932-33) of Percy Sherwood (1866-1939), a German-born pianist-teacher-composer who settled in Hampstead at the onset of the First World War and whose manuscripts now reside in the Bodleian Library. This is music still solidly rooted in the 19th-century Germanic tradition, with some imposing Rachmaninovisms grafted on. Never less than accomplished, it is never much more than that either. Once again finely played by Takenouchi, this too is a must-have for anyone interested in the post-history of the Romantic piano concerto. With decent orchestral support and recording, and excellent documentation, it all adds up to a more than welcome issue.

Gracefully expressive

BBC Music Magazine, Michael Church

“For Takemitsu, walking through a garden was a quasi-musical experience, and that’s the feeling one gets from Les yeux clos II, the late work by him in this collection.  Debussy’s sound-world is his source, but he pursues the argument into mystical realms; Hiroaki Takenouchi delivers it with gracefully expressive economy, as he does the eight other piece he has chosen to reflect the pianistic tradition among Japanese composers schooled in the musical ways of the avant-garde West.

The other pieces which stand out here are Joji Yuasa’s exquisite Cosmos Haptic (‘relating to the sense of touch’), in which single notes and terse phrases are dropped like pebbles into a silent pool, and Sachiyo Tsurumi’s exuberant Toy 2 for piano and electronics, in which the piano’s timbre is decorated by gentle gurgles and burps.”

Performance  ★★★★
Recording  ★★★★

Takenouchi will go far

MusicWeb International, Mark Sealey

“This is a sumptuous, relaxed, languorous CD of nine spare – yet also explosive – Japanese contemporary pieces for piano.  It is as much an act of love as it is of exposition of new music.  The composers have been chosen by Hiroaki Takenouchi to represent work from that country of the last half century or so.  They reveal an intensity with – and, really, a sort of authority over – melody, texture, rhythm and what the instrument can do.  This intensity, this sense of command, can amaze, if we enter this sound-world as receptive listeners”

“a recital of real depth and interpretative strength […] here is beautiful, accomplished and truly delightful music.”

“Miyoshi’s and Nodaïra’s pieces are in contrast with what comes immediately before and with Hosokawa’s “Haiku”, which follows it, in that they have more pace, more evident animation.  The “Haiku” homage to Boulez shares some of the latter’s sound-world: clusters, vertical groupings, a love of sound for sound’s sake, sporadic interjections which serve to imply the melodic lines, rather than define them in linear fashion.  Here Takenouchi is at his poetic best.  Pauses, attacks, holding of notes – such techniques seem aimed at stretching the limits of pianism, without self-consciousness.  In fact they plunge us right into the essence of best practice and great creativity for the instrument.”

“This is emphatically and unashamedly modern, at times dissonant and aggressively uncompromising playing of honest, crystalline music.  Takenouchi (just 30 years old) is based in London, where he studied with the late Yonty Solomon.  He will go far.  His sureness of touch and dramatically clear and clean insight are ideally suited to this music and to the world it inhabits.  For something new, different, yet essentially full of integrity, beauty and creativity, this CD is well worth a look.”

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