Empassioned – by Viktor Bijelovic : Beethoven/Chopin/Liszt
I don’t do a lot of CD reviews here because I try to keep things on a local level, but I’m getting more and more requests for them so I will likely relent and do more.
I’ve been listening to a lovely recital CD by a young Serbian pianist named Viktor Bijelovic. It’s just out this month and should be on sale shortly here in Lewes.
Mr. Bijelovic is young but he’s already won some prestigious competitions, played twice for Prince Charles and made several TV and radio appearances. This is his second solo piano CD, and hard won too, using a Kickstarter campaign to fund it. He’s clearly willing to put in the work to get his music out there. My hat’s off to him. It’s a hard road.
Recital albums– as opposed to albums of single composer repertoire– are a wonderful way to be introduced to an artist. As with this CD, you get about an hour of carefully chosen pieces that show off the artist to best effect, flowing the way a carefully programmed live recital does. Mr. Bijelovic has bravely chosen very standard repertoire here––I say bravely since he knows he will inevitably be compared to the very greatest players––and in my humble opinion has managed it all very well.
I have to highlight the more Romantic repertoire here because I sense that is where his greatest talents lie. The subtle brooding mood of Beethoven may not be Mr Bijelovic’s best suit, yet it is totally enjoyable and technically beyond reproach (IMHO, as I’m not a pianist). However, the album really lifts off with the Chopin Ballade No. 1 and it sails energetically and passionately from there through the first Nocturne, a delightfully delicate Clair de Lune, a quick but fiery Rachmaninoff prelude (Opus 23, No. 5) and then ends by tearing the roof off the place with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
As added interest Mr. Bijelovic has recorded some little historical essays that he has written as companions to the CD. They are available for downloading or streaming from his SoundCloud site. For those looking for some easily available background on these works, it’s very useful, but I would have preferred more of an artist’s perspective on the pieces than a history–– some personal insights or anecdotes that the artist is willing to share with us. Just my own preference but I suspect I’m not alone.
And a brief note on the recording quality–there is at times to my ears a slight brittleness in the upper register––not quite harsh but a bit too thin. It’s one of those things that should have been fixed with EQ when the album was mixed but if it bothers you it can easily be fixed with a slight adjustment to your treble control.
So, this a box of candy, no doubt, and one created with care and great skill. And while there’s nothing here to challenge the seasoned listener, if you’ve never heard some of the greatest and best-known piano pieces ever written, I envy you the experience of sitting down with this CD for the first time. I’m willing to bet that when it’s finished you’ll start it all over again. Sit back and enjoy.
Review by Paul Austin Kelly