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Zsolt Bognar Reviews

For more than a decade, the young pianist Zsolt Bognár has been studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music with the eminent artist and pedagogue Sergei Babayan. Through Babayan, Bognár has been steeped in the Russian pianistic tradition associated with the likes of Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, two giants whom Bognár cites as formative influences. Bognár’s pedigree, however, is not entirely Russian. Before studying with Babayan, Bognár worked with Roger Shields, a pupil of Soulima Stravinsky, Yvonne Loriod, and Wilhelm Kempff. Bognár’s complex musical lineage is reflected in his playing, which is at once virtuosic, probing, and affecting.
In Schubert’s Klavierstücke, Bognár impresses me with his unforced poetry, his judicious use of rubato, and understanding of the subtle tempo relationships and kaleidoscopic color and dynamic shades that characterize these enigmatic works. Those qualities are also present in Bognár’s traversal of the four Liszt transcriptions of Schubert’s songs, Der Doppelgänger, Aufenthalt, Die Jagd, and Ständchen von Shakespeare. One minor quibble concerns Bognár’s slightly romanticized treatment of Der Doppelgänger. Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach’s way with this bone-chilling song (see my review in Issue 36:1) has forever changed my perception of it. In the Dante Sonata, which concludes his recital, Bognár’s playing sizzles with white-hot virtuosity, pinpoint control, and interpretive freedom reminiscent of Lazar Berman.  
One of the handful of rules Fanfare reviewers are required to follow provides for comparative evaluation aimed at informing the reader how the album under consideration measures up against the competition. Most often, I find this comparative exercise to be daunting because it is enormously subjective, not to mention inherently unfair. At times, however, this task results in the subject of the comparison itself becoming a future reference. At bottom, that is the gist of my conclusions regarding Bognár’s album—that is, I know of no recording of the feature repertoire that is finer than Bognár’s. The most appropriate praise that comes to mind is that another critic once bestowed upon Ivan Moravec—each and every one of these recordings is a thing of beauty itself, rare and luminous as a Ming Vase.
The quality of the sound engineering is outstanding.
Warmly recommended. Radu A. Lelutiu - Fanfare Magazine

Pianist Zsolt Bognár is the winner of a number of competitions. This disc appears to be his debut offering. As such it is nicely, and thoughtfully, programmed. An excellent calling card, eminently fit for purpose.
Bognár's Schubert is appealing. He is strongest in the headstrong, impetuous parts of the first of D946; he is yet to learn fully how to sustain the contrasting panels. Yet in the second he seems to get much closer to the heart of the lyricism here, and is unafraid to add a certain harshness to the accents. He has yet to achieve the transcendental level of interpretation Pollini achieves in his DG recording, but his freshness of approach is endearing nonetheless. Plus, he proves he can play with great depth of tone. The third piece is the let down, rather clumsy and awkward with a propensity to push on, even to anticipate beats. When Schubert spreads his wings, repeating rhythmic gestures and then floating a treble line over them, Bognár cannot quite capture the special sense of exploration going on here.
Yet he is impressive in the Schubert-Liszt transcriptions. The tormented loneliness of “Der Doppelgänger” is chillingly conveyed; the power of “Aufenthalt” is portrayed without being over-oppressive, the bass descents stunningly directional and telling. Again, though, a certain impetuosity just takes the later sections away from a winning performance. A rather restrained and careful “La Chasse” is a disappointment, and is inserted prior to the appealing “Ständchen”, where Bognár's playfulness is allowed full rein.
Finally the towering “Dante” Sonata (the disc is somewhat short measure: surely we could have had more?). The recording renders the lower registers of the piano excellently. Perhaps Bognár could have found more links to the blackness of the Master's later piano works here, but as the performance progresses, so Bognár's resonance with the Lisztian soundworld seems to increase. He can be meltingly beautiful, even downright seductive, his tone singing sweetly; but he can also be downright diabolical in his expression (listen to the great left hand staccato just before the ten-minute mark). Even in the most complex passages his pedal technique enables clarity, and there is plenty of excitement towards the end.
An interesting and certainly enjoyable disc. It will be interesting to track Bognár's development. Colin Clarke - Fanfare Magazine