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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven, Susanne Kessel, Piano, Volume 1

Beethoven will never leave us, come what may. He and Bach have captured especially the world's heart and soul, have stirred our imaginations, made us look onto our earth or into what we can see of the firmament and think, "we can be more than we seem."

And so it is right that pianist Susanne Kessel has launched an ambitious international composition project of which we see the first fruits here, namely 250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven, and its first installment as Vol. 1 (WDR: The Cologne Broadcasts ppfb1 2-CDs). Here we have the first 25. Bonn pianist Kessel aims to have all 250 commissioned and in hand by 2020, which marks Beethoven's 250th birthday!

In the first installment all 25 are short, bagatelle-like, making use of Beethoven motifs or not as freely decided by the composers, but in some way channeling what Beethoven has meant to each. The music is captivating, ranging from a high modernism to a neo-post-wherever-we-are eclecticism.

The sheer diversity of approach is given concentrated poetic expression by Susanne Kessel, who makes of each piece a thing of dramatic beauty, or whimsical musicality, or heightened presence, or all-at-once.

The continual common denominator is the Kessel pianism, her readiness to put herself into whatever any given composer has creatively crafted. You may recognize some of the first 25 composers' names or you may not. The point is their point-in-time contemporaneity and how they choose to put into musical terms their debt to Beethoven and his revolutionizing of the role of the piano in the music that came to him and to those many generations of composers who came after.

In the end the first 25 of the composers give us a whirlwind of possibilities and remind us just how central Susanne Kessel is to the music of our time, marking and making vividly present our real-time devotion to the very new and the once new.

This is a central volume and a most promising beginning for such a worthy undertaking. Even if this were to be the only volume produced, which we know will not happen because more is on the way, it would (and does) stand on its own as a triumph of concept and content, masterful performances of fascinating and moving music. But of course there will be more. It all starts here. Listen, by all means.

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