Favorite Albums of 2020
This is one of my favorite classical albums of recent years, and is also the pianist's debut solo album. It's a bold one at that: rather than tiptoe out with a same-old program, Işıl Bengi assembles a transfixing series of pieces that I suspect most listeners will not have heard before, plus she plays it all on a Chris Maene straight-strung grand. There are some real stunners here, such as the "Toccatina" and the "Sassoun Dance" by Arno Babadjanian, and the "Transe" by Stéphane Galland, but closer listening reveals the beauties of the slower pieces, especially those of the closing "Litany" by Toru Takemitsu. Işıl Bengi is from Turkey but moved to Belgium to study when she was a teenager. In the liner notes she describes her complex feelings about that separation, and says that she chose pieces inspired by traditional music as a way to create a sort of "family reunion in sound" with music from various countries. Her playing is emotionally committed, intense and colorful, and the piano helps too: it has a sort of burbly, 'sanded wood' sound that especially benefits the lower midrange and never sounds metallic even when the music is intentionally hard-edged. This one album made me an instant fan of Işıl Bengi (and her more recent second album is magical, too). It's the kind of effort that the classical music world needs. Looking at the CD case, who would mark it as classical, and who cares? It's a project so personal to the artist, and that makes it personal to the listener.