Here's your disc of the week for May 5, 2013. Each week CBC Radio 2's In Concert looks at new classical music releases and selects one recording that you'll want to know about.
Artist: Valentina Lisitsa, piano, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Francis.
Repertoire: The Piano Concertos and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Anyone who believes that classical music is trailing in the dust of the online age, gasping for breath while the music industry strides confidently into the digital future, hasn't encountered pianist Valentina Lisitsa.
The 40-year-old musician, born in Kiev, Ukraine, now living in rural North Carolina, has transformed herself from a struggling concert artist unable to get a gig into a media sensation and the object of adoring fans around the world. Her concerts sell out, her recordings are climbing the sales charts and her online videos have attracted a reported 55 million views on YouTube. Not bad for a pianist who just a few years ago was described by one Canadian critic as "the most exciting pianist you've never heard of."
And she's done it all online. A few years ago, Lisitsa installed a live webcam in her home studio and shared the sounds and images of her daily practice routine with anyone who cared to watch. That online audience gradually grew.
Unable to get a deal with a record company, she produced her own DVD of Chopin's 24 Preludes. When her fans posted stolen clips on YouTube, she decided to post them herself and, surprisingly, sales went up.
Four years ago she and her husband (also a pianist) cashed in their savings, took out a second mortgage on their house and put $300,000 into this recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios with conductor Michael Francis. That gamble has paid off. The impressive sales of her independently produced recordings convinced the British label Decca to start distributing her music. And her audiences — online and in the concert hall — continue to grow. Last year, 100,000 viewers watched her sold-out debut recital at the 6,000-seat Royal Albert Hall.
It's a great story, but what about the music?
She's good. She's really good.
For starters, Lisitsa's technique is brilliant. She dashes around the keyboard with steely assurance and plenty of derring-do. She's sensitive, handling Rachmaninoff's sometimes overwrought musical language with finesse. Okay, so the orchestra sometimes gets left behind, but they do catch up, and while this orchestra-for-hire can occasionally sound somewhat indifferent, Lisitsa's passion is never in doubt.
Lisitsa now has it all — legions of fans and a legitimate concert career. She's also a true trailblazer for classical music. The only question is whether others will follow her lead.
Disc of the week: David Fray plays Bach
Disc of the week: Augustin Dumay and Louis Lortie
Disc of the Week: Honens 2012 winner Pavel Kolesnikov
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on May 04, 2013