A Veteran Pianist and A Relative Newcomer

Two recent piano releases deserve attention. Although belonging to different generations, the Swiss-born American pianist Gilles Vonsattel, 30, and the all-American Garrick Ohlsson, 63, both studied at the Juilliard School and both were propelled on their careers with major competition prizes, the Naumburg and Honens for Vonsattel, the Chopin and Busoni for Ohlsson.

The Esther Honens International Piano Competition is Canada's answer to Fort Worth's Van Cliburn. Its winners have had lower visibility than the Cliburn's, but this recording on the Honens' own label suggests that Vonsattel, the 2009 laureate, is an important addition to the piano scene. With a Columbia undergraduate degree in political science and economics, and a Juilliard master's in piano - his teacher was the romantic Jerome Lowenthal - he seems to balance intellect and feeling perfectly.

There's no hint of haze in his Debussy and Ravel, but rather a finely chiseled elegance. The French tradition is to play these pieces with relatively little rubato, but Vonsattel's generous give and take is both structural and utterly organic. His tone somehow manages both crystalline clarity and a core of warmth, and it's beautifully captured in a spacious acoustic.

The program itself is enterprising, mixing the French favorites with two pieces by Swiss composers: Arthur Honegger's early tribute to Ravel, and alternately disjunctive, rumbling and tinkling night-piece miniatures by Heinz Holliger, also an oboist and conductor.

Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News
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