The most remarkable pianist of her generation – Russian-born Olga Scheps, who was raised and resides in Germany – has continued this year to develop her repertoire and career in surprising directions. I first wrote about Olga nearly a year ago, upon the release of Vocalise, her fifth CD for Sony. That article – Meet Olga Scheps – includes biographical notes, links to some videos of her performances, and an overview of her discography.
The last year has been busy for Olga – in addition to her concertizing, she has just released another disc – so I decided to write a review of some of her recent activities, and about her new recording, Satie.
Olga in recital
After the release of Vocalise in July 2015, Olga made numerous appearances throughout Germany specifically to promote its release, followed by many concerto and recital performances during the summer and fall last year. Here is a video of her performance of Rachmaninov’s lyrical Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 (transcribed by Alan Richardson) – the piece which inspired the title and theme of last year’s solo recital disc – Olga was filmed here at the Barocksaal Kloster Machern in a recital that was part of the Mosel Musikfestival, one of the oldest and largest international festivals of classical music in Germany, on August 30, 2015:
From the same recital, here Olga performs a piece in a nearly diametrically opposite style – although also by a Russian composer – Sergei Prokofiev’s thorny and unnerving Sonata No. 7 in B flat Major, Op. 83:
To round out the selections from this impressive recital, Olga takes it up a semitone for a masterful performance of Chopin’s massive Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58:
Olga performed several concerti with European orchestras in the second half of 2015, including:
- Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 with Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, Prague Philharmonia, and Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn
- Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 with Collegium Musicum Basel
- Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 with Prague Philharmonia
- Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 with Philharmonie Salzburg
Steinway Heliconia piano launch
A Steinway artist, Olga was their featured performer at the launch event in Hamburg on November 24, 2015 for the new Heliconia piano designed collaboratively by Steinway with the French firm Lalique. Read Steinway’s account of the launch of this beautiful instrument on the Steinway site here.
Here is a full video of Olga’s performance at the Steinway/Lalique event:
- Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2
- Gluck/Sgambati: Melody from Orpheus and Eurydice
The exquisite delicacy of the Nocturne here is a fine example of why Olga is, in my opinion, the finest interpreter of Chopin in the world:
After the new year, she gave further performances of the Mozart concerto with Folkwang Kammerorchester Essen followed by a string of concerts presenting the seldom-performed and only Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33 by Antonín Dvořák with both Osnabrücker Symphonieorchester and Thüringer Symphoniker.
Besides these concerto appearances Olga performed numerous solo recitals, concertizing throughout Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, the UK, Romania, and Austria during the 2015-16 season.
New York debut
In addition – and hopefully this is indicative of the future – she traveled to the United states to make her New York debut at the end of January. From what little one can find about this recital on the internet it, it looks like she performed at (le) poisson rouge (on the site of what was formerly Greenwich Village’s iconic Village Gate) on February 3. But from the photos that Olga posted on Facebook, it looks like she played at Caspary Auditorium at The Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side. Perhaps she played both?
Olga plays Arvo Pärt
Olga traveled to Talinn, Estonia in early May to rehearse Arvo Pärt’s Lamentate (2002) with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bas Wiegers. The performance was held at the Köln/Cologne Philharmonie on May 5, 2016. Lamentate is Pärt’s largest scale instrumental work in his inimitable tintinnabuli style, and a personal favorite of this reviewer. I was thrilled to hear Olga performing Pärt’s music (the concert was available to listen to as a streaming file for a month after the concert), and I’m hopeful that Olga may decide to record his profoundly beautiful music at some point in the future – her unique gifts of expression are so well-suited to Pärt’s intimate and moving oeuvre.
* * *
Olga’s sixth CD for Sony was released in Germany at the beginning of May 2016 – Sony still does not distribute her recordings in the United States, and I had to wait until the end of May for my CD to arrive from Germany. The overall tone of this recital is definitely lighter than last year’s CD Vocalise, which although it featured many lyrical pieces, was built around Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, a muscly tour-de-force of Romantic pianism. For a pianist whose reputation centers around emotional performances of Chopin and Russian masters, Satie’s quirky miniatures provide Olga with the opportunity to bring her gift for nuance and emotionally charged cantabile to a different corner of the repertoire.
Just published earlier this week, here Olga performs selections from the recording on a Westdeutscher Rundfunk TV show (followed by an interview in German):
- Gymnopédie No. 1 (1888)
- Sarabande No. 3 (1887)
Erik Satie (1866 – 1925) was a reclusive, eccentric composer, a respected member of the early 20th century Paris avant-garde whose unique personality helped shape the scene alongside his admirers Debussy and Ravel and his collaborators Picasso, Cocteau, and Diaghilev. Gymnopédie No. 1 is probably Satie’s most famous composition today, known to many through its employment in several media, and especially film soundtracks.
Olga’s recital presents several sides of Satie the composer – in contrast to the moody Trois Sarabandes, the limpid Six Gnossiennes (1889-97) and the atmospheric Trois Gymnopédies, Olga also recorded Darius Milhaud’s piano arrangements (1928) of Satie’s Five Grimaces for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1915) originally composed for orchestra by Satie for a performance of the play to be staged by Cocteau that never materialized. These brief, extraverted miniatures provide a snarky counterpoint to the otherwise dreamy recital, which also includes two waltzes – Je te veux (I want you) (1904) and “Tendrement” – Valse chantée (Sung waltz) (1902) which incidentally, is for piano solo like all the rest of the disc – despite the title.
The recording closes with a “bonus” track – Gentle Threat by Chilly Gonzales, a Canadian pianist, songwriter, and producer who has built a European career and also lives in Cologne. Gentle Threat was originally performed by Chilly and recorded on his 2005 release Solo Piano, a collection that was compared by critics at the time to the music of Satie. It makes a fitting encore to Olga’s Satie recital.
Satie went to No. 1 on the classical music charts in Germany on June 8, and is still there as I write this three weeks later. What an astounding year! What’s next? I’m looking forward to the musical ground Olga will cover in the next year, and in the years to come.
To close our review of Olga’s music 2015-16, here is a piece Chilly wrote specifically for her: Olga Gigue, from her first performance of the work at the Köln Philharmonie in December 2015: