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Music Review A mesmerising master interpreter

SIMON DUFF delights in Marija Bokor's supreme piano craft in the latest recording of Bartok, Vaughan Williams and Yusupov

Marija Bokor
Piano Bartok Vaughan Williams Yusupov
(Prospero)

THE debut album from Swiss pianist Marija Bokor is majestic master-class tone poem adventure. Featuring works for solo piano by three composers, Bela Bartok, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Yusupov, recorded over three days in April 2021, in co-operation with with Radio SRF 2 Kultur at the Radiostudio Zurich hall.

It’s a debut that will further enhance Boker’s growing reputation on the world stage. Born in 1992 at St Gallen, north-east Switzerland, of Serbian heritage, Boker grew up surrounded by music from an early age, beginning her piano studies when she was five years old. She graduated with a Soloist Diploma at the University of Lucerne in the class of Konstantin Lifschitz.

After winning several national and international first prizes, Boker was invited to play concerts in Europe, US, Asia and Latin America.

She has played with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Karnter Symphony Orchestra, the Orquestra Jazz Sinfonica do Estado de Sao Paolo, the Tianjik Symphony Orchestra and the Hradec Kralove Pholharmony to name just a few. Boker has already reached great heights in her career.

The album opens up with the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok’s Two Elegies, Op 8b, Sz 41: I Grave, composed between 1908 and 1909. Simple slow tempo refrains wind around twisting angular cluster trills before building into complex bursts of melodic moods before slowing again into minimal leanings.

Next up from Bartok, Two Elegies, Op 8b, Sz 41: II. Molto adagio, sempre rubato (irregular rhythm throughout). Further brooding intent and unusual seascape moods, nodding to Debussy’s impressionistic influence.

Bokor’s playing dramatic but skilfully always in control. Finally from Bartok, eight Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs completed in 1920.

The composer taking a journey with folk melodies, combined with avant-garde influences. Moods shift through unusual chord sequences and sunlight hues. Mid album comes English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’s six piano pieces from his Charterhouse Suite written in 1920 a sequence of intriguing English dance inspired works.

Harking back to the composer’s happy school days at England’s elite Charterhouse School in Surrey. Bokor interprets the pieces with gifted intelligence and the right balance of optimism and questioning.

The highlight of the album is Benjamin Yusupov’s compositions, a contemporary Russian composer, conductor and pianist based in Israel. The pieces chosen for the album recital are based on both Western and Eastern musical traditions, drawing especially on traditions of various Jewish ethnic communities with the goal of creating a new style of Israeli music.

Four of his works selected for the album: Subconscious Labyrinths, Metaphor, Melancholy and Crossroads No 2, Melancholy, a stunning slice of quiet poetic lyricism. Beginning with low bass lines held over mournful chords, occasionally shifting gears into mid register up tempo sections before returning to drifting calm spiritual leanings.

The album closes with Crossroads No 2. Bokor’s dexterity to the fore. Busy bass lines fusing with modern melodic intent. Ending with dramatic bass chords into rising trills.

Full of suspense and mystery. Yusupov’s excellent interview section in the liner notes explaining his intention and approach to the works.

The Radiostudio Zurich hall used for the recording makes for a sympathetic acoustic. The end mix is detailed and rich across the frequency spectrum, set across a highly dynamic performance range.

Tone wise a digital top end clarity, seemingly combined with deep analogue like warm glow bass tones. An album from an exceptionally gifted pianist, full of poetic poise and lyrical intent.

Perhaps future recordings might include works by Harold Budd, Max Richter or Philip Glass.

Bokor’s career without doubt will continue to be brave, bold and ambitious. An album, highly recommended.

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