Ashley Wass, piano
Orchid Classics

This new release from British pianist Ashley Wass celebrates a significant milestone in his musical life – some 40 years since he first touched the keys of a piano. Black and White, the album and corresponding live concerts, is a reflection of the Wass’s desire to find stillness, focus on the joy and happiness music brings, and to share the gift of music with his young children. Each of the 12 pieces has a personal significance, and the album is a reflective, sensitive musical journey rich in expression, confidence, and experience, which comes from four decades at the piano.

Black & White (Ashley Wass, piano) album cover

The selection is unashamedly romantic and soulful, with music mostly associated with evening or nighttime. Bach’s evergreen Prelude in C (played with a shining cantabile) is followed by the Angelico from Mompou’s ‘Musica Callada’, the flowing arpeggios of Bach contrasting perfectly with its delicate simplicity and crystalline sound. Fauré’s Après un rêve is expansive and richly hued, while the iconic opening movement of the Moonlight sonata has a hushed intensity and recalls the liquid arpeggios of the opening Bach in its bass triplets.

Federico Mompou: Música callada, Vol. 1: I. Angelico (Ashley Wass, piano)

Ashley Wass

Ashley Wass

Two works by living composers – Ludovico Einaudi and Max Richter – are included in the selection. I’m particularly pleased to find Einaudi here, a composer I feel is often unfairly dismissed by more ‘serious’ musicians, critics and commentators. His attractive, minimalist piano music is very popular with teenage piano students in particular and Wass combines elegance and authority in his performance of Nuvole Bianche (White Clouds).

The same warmth and colour found in the Fauré is present in Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry (commonly known as Danny Boy). It’s lush and generous, and provides the perfect contrast to the spare intimacy of Max Richter’s Written on the Sky which follows it. And then we have Chopin’s poignant Nocturne in C-sharp minor which is both stately and tender, colourful and expressive.

Danny Boy (arr. for piano) (Ashley Wass, piano)

The album closes with what is surely Debussy’s most famous piano piece, Clair de lune, from the Suite Bergamasque, which floats and shimmers in Wass’s skilled hands. It’s the perfect conclusion to this wonderful selection.

Ashley Wass | Clair de Lune – Claude Debussy

Listening to this lovely album, you can almost picture the young Ashley Wass sitting at the piano, exploring all this glorious music and revelling in its melodies, harmonies, individual characters, and idiosyncrasies. Each piece is played with warmth and affection; these are clearly pieces which mean a great deal to Wass. Let us hope that budding pianists are equally inspired by this beautiful playing.

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