Why would a harpsichordist with a burgeoning career playing pre-classical music begin performing on the modern piano? "I've always felt it was important as an artist to keep growing and changing," states Byron Schenkman, a cofounder of Seattle Baroque and chiefly known as a superb performer on the piano's precursors, the harpsichord and fortepiano. "I want to apply historical performance practice to a modern instrument."
Schenkman recently retired from Seattle Baroque to intensify his focus on the piano, which is louder (due to heavier strings and hammers), tonally richer (thanks in part to a taut soundboard and overlapping strings), and much more touch-sensitive (owing to a complex, finely regulated series of levers). So I expected his new disc, Joseph Haydn: Six Sonatas and an Adagio (Centaur) to sound too heavy and leaden, yet Schenkman's touch remains true to Haydn's spirit: feathery, lithe, and delightfully precise. His CD-release recital includes pieces by Haydn, Beethoven, and Bartók.
Another dazzling pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, has temporarily departed from his usual trio/quartet format to embark on a brief solo tour in support of his new release, Solo (Blue Note). With the entire piano at his command, Rubalcaba burnishes a freely eclectic, often ebulliently festive style that draws on swing, gospel, and bop with the sharp corners and occasionally piquant dissonance of Bartók.
Although superficially separated by genre and geography, the Cuban pianist—who now lives near Miami—shares Schenkman's attention to touch. Notes, chords, and rippling, bravura runs blast or purr or shy away into silence, as if to chase and capture a unique dynamic for every note on the keyboard.