Justin James is a classical and contemporary pianist with an affinity for the music of the 19th and 20th century periods, especially that of Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofieff, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. Aged four, Justin began playing his first notes and has never lost touch with the instrument. He began formal studies at six years of age and as a thirteen year old, had mastered a considerable amount of the romantic piano repertoire with a musical sensitivity beyond his years.
Piano V.1, his debut recording, is a collection of "timeless" compositions for the piano. James says that the reason for recording these four composers is because they have always spoken to him the most, both emotionally and intellectually.
"Chopin's love of "bel canto" and his development of a "vocal" keyboard language, a "singing" line that breathes, was revolutionary. We see this influence later, in the music of Debussy, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. Chopin is a great place to begin, since he was so influenced by the greats, Bach and Mozart. I guess the album is something of a romantic piano timeline in that way. Mixing well known compositions with a selection of lesser known was a conscious decision. I wanted to share my interpretation of the Minute Waltz Op 64 No 1 and C Sharp Prelude Op 3 No 2 and also record pieces that represented the composer at the height of his genius. The Rachmaninoff Moment Musical Op 16 No 4 typifies this for me. An array of notes that are really hard to control. This piece sounds abhorrent on a bad piano and the challenge is to shape it on a good one. This is what made the recording so rewarding."
Beginning with the expressive and ornamental Nocturne of Chopin, we are taken on a poetic musical journey featuring the delicate Minute Waltz and two Preludes which include the elegant Raindrop, culminating in two of Chopin's most cherished and technically difficult Etudes. From there, we melt into the sonorous tranquillity of Debussy's first Arabesque and second Image, showcasing the natural acoustics of both instrument and venue. Two "Chopinesque" Etudes from the lyrical Scriabin transport us to a climactic finale with several scintillating Preludes and the fourth Moment Musical of Rachmaninoff, highlighting the incredible depth and power of the grand piano.
Whether you are in the car or the office, at a restaurant or studying for exams, download this to your iPod and experience it whenever you want to get away from the noise.
"One of the most difficult tasks for this reviewer is how hard to judge a self-produced recording? Being familiar with some of the “greats” of the piano world, by what standard do you judge a piano recording that, as it were, lobs in the door. Do you judge it against the Arrau’s, Richter’s and Argerich’s of the world? In the end, although you want to make allowances, you have to listen to what they have to say and measure them up against what you have heard that such music can potentially say in the hands of such masters."
"Justin James is a Western Australian pianist who has self-produced his first recording, with nearly 53 minutes of the works of Chopin, Debussy, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. This might be described as a “brave” endeavour in a world flooded by hopeful and ambitious pianists. What he has produced is a statement that announces the appearance of a new Australian talent that indeed has something unique to say. There is no denying there is a clear force of insightful personality behind these interpretations. And they grow on you with time."
"The first six tracks are all Chopin, starting with the beloved Nocturne in E flat major, with phrasing that struck me ambivalently at first, but as it proceeds it gains conviction, although the pacing is somewhat quirkily variable. The so-called Minute Waltz perhaps starts a little too fast, although without loss of clarity and ends with elegance, if again slightly rushed. However once we reach the Raindrop prelude, the variations in pacing are just right with just the right weight balances between right and left hand, then as we reach the build up in tension, the left hand assumes slightly too much ascendancy until the quiet ending, handled with great sensitivity and touch. The 20th Prelude exudes great dignity, before the Waterfall Etude (op.10 no.1) in which the waterfall wavers a little unsteadily as does the wind in the Winter Wind Etude (op.25 no.11)."
"The first of the two Debussy works is the Arabesque No.1. This interpretation perhaps reveals Justin James playing with the greatest conviction and beauty on this recording, an absolutely convincing rendition in its authority and great balance. Then Debussy’s Image no.2, book 2, the moon descending on the ruins of the Temple, starts with much less conviction and cohesion but still provided much food for thought in its take on this enigmatic masterpiece, especially in its latter stages."
"The first of two Scriabin pieces, the Etude op.8 no. 2, a seeming homage to Chopin, is performed with technical precision like the second piece, the Etude op. 8 no. 4, said to be like Chopin, but in this interpretation actually seeming to look forward more to Debussy."
"The first of four Rachmaninoff pieces that follow is the famous Prelude op.3 no. 2 with its striking chords played with strength but without overemphasis or melodrama, striking a balance between passion and sensitivity. The reflective Rachmaninoff Prelude Op.23 no. 4 brings the Debussy side of Rachmaninoff beautifully into focus, whereas speed and virtuosity seems to have led to some sacrifice in musicality in the Prelude op.23 no. 7. In the final Rachmaninoff work, the Moment Musical op.16 no.4, the phenomenal virtuosic demands of the piece are mostly met, as the left hand gives the impression of being rushed, but this piece still manages to be a tour de force with which to end this propitious debut recording." Four Stars Andrew Dziedzic 2MBS/FM 102.5 Fine Music