These are tough times for solo pianists, as there are so many of them ~ with tens of thousands of grand pianos sold each year, more prospective pianists are born daily. The growing success of Piano Day is only a reflection of a surging worldwide interest, echoed in the amount of submissions we’ve been receiving in this category. So what does a piano composer ~ especially a cinematic, pop-inflected composer ~ need to do in order to get noticed?
Singles help, and over the past few months, Ukrainian composer Egor Grushin released two in advance of his fourth album. “Ocean” set the stage with pure piano, while “Sparkle” added string quartet. By treating the album in the same manner as a pop release, Grushin is already ahead of the game. Consider the practice of releasing a ballad before a banger, and the association is cemented; radio will likely embrace at least one. A similar principle is evident in the sequencing, which on this release receives special note: the alternating moods of these pieces are purposeful, meant to keep the interest strong. Not that this is needed with a half-hour album; but like the singles, and the string quartet, it helps.
Most importantly (and obviously), one needs to enjoy the songs. Again, Grushin has paid attention to detail, creating catchy melodies with titles that reflect the time of year: the aforementioned “Ocean” and “Sparkle”, along with “Summer.” Andriy Balan’s cover is a match. Early highlight “Essential” begins as a gentle waltz, but develops depth as it progresses, culminating in a Mahler-esque string surge set against a segment of solo piano, highlighting the strengths of all the performers. “Summer” is as playful as the title implies, characterized by carefree plucks and flurries of notes like dandelion seeds on the wind. The title track is melancholic and wistful in its early stages, romantic and assured in its later stages, wrapping around to its beginning as it ends. Continuing on this theme, the closing “Loss” heightens the drama and is nearly anguished in its emotional immediacy. While Grushin has declared this not to be a concept album, it comes across as the story of a doomed summer romance ~ one beautiful enough to repeat, if given the chance, regardless of the outcome. (Richard Allen)