July 1, 2004
I don’t often wax rhapsodic over new releases, but this offering by superb native Canadian and local classical pianist Joel Hastings is one worth burbling over. Generally our musicians put together well-done, enjoyable recordings. Hastings, however, presents the work of a true artist in this new album, Sessions.
Upon my first listening of the Rachmaninoff compositions, which comprise the first five tracks, I was set back on my heels by the impeccable virtuosity and musical inspiration underlying Hastings’s interpretation. His astonishing evenness of tone brings out the shimmer of Lilacs and the contrasting virility of the Etude-Tableau, Op. 39, No. 1.
The disc has 10 tracks of Prokofiev works (you can never have too much Prokofiev), which illustrates not just his mastery over the most difficult piano technique, but also his stature as an artist. His control and depth of expression go from the introspective beauty of Legend to the aggressive, primitive stomping of the Allemande. This latter piece brought to mind an illustration in one of my childhood books of the hut of Baba-Yar dancing about on huge chicken legs.
Hastings magnificently polishes off Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses in D Minor, Op. 54; Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9, Op. 68; and Liszt’s fiendishly difficult Totentanz.
Were I listening to this without knowing the artist, I would have guessed it to be the work of a top-tier pianist such as Evgeny Kissen or Sviatoslav Richter. Hastings definitely falls into the category of world-class performer.