This is the year of Marie-Luise Hinrichs for me. Her two discs of Padre Antonio Soler are brilliant, with fantastically nuanced playing. As great as they are, they didn't really prepare me for this disc of a dozen piano transcriptions of pieces by Hildegard von Bingen, five short pieces by Armenian composer and spiritualist/mystic George Gurdjieff, and one brief original work by the pianist. Ms Hinrichs has entered the realm of Michel Block's best work with this disc. Hinrichs writes in the liner notes that she only discovered Hildegard von Bingen in 2005, and soon thereafter transcribed pieces during a very spiritual time for her. She states that she transcribed with God's help and that while working she sensed a second voice that was not hers. I'm not spiritual myself, but the results point to the absolute sincerity of what she writes. The Bingen pieces display a very serious, very devout, and very loving spirituality. There's just no other way to describe it.
The music is often simplicity itself, with beautiful monophonic melodies throughout. Hinrichs fleshes the music out for piano wonderfully, and never overdoes it. The transcriptions are not about virtuosic showmanship, but rather they focus on musical truth. And they allow Hinrichs to display an amazing, soft variability of touch. Piano and pianissimo come in many shades, and in a few pieces she achieves pianissimo as delicate and quiet as anything I've heard from Yaeko Yamane or Julian Gorus. Hinrichs achieves some of this with generous una corda use, but sometimes she seems to be barely nudging the keys. But there's much more than that. Though generally quiet and spiritual, Hinrichs infuses the playing with delicately nuanced and perfectly judged rhythmic vitality. Her rhythmic acumen is even more on display in the Gurdjieff pieces, which evoke the Orient in a hazy, sometimes languid, but always intensely appealing way. As with fellow German pianist Ragna Schirmer, Hinrichs weaves pieces from seemingly disparate sources very well. Indeed, I'd say Hinrichs does a better job here than Schirmer does in her traversal of Liszt's Annees. Hinrichs' one original composition very much fits in with the conception of the disc as a whole. I suppose it might be possible to find the strumming of the piano strings that start a few pieces, and a couple string plucks, to be a bit kitschy, and I usually find such devices unnecessary, but even those work splendidly here. The music is so captivating, though in a very calming and reassuring way, that when I first spun the disc, I did something I almost never do: I played it twice, back to back. The disc offers an hour of radiant serenity.
Sound is inside-the-piano close, with pedal noise and damper noise. It does not detract in the least, and it is less obvious through headphones, which offer an even more enveloping experience than speakers.
One of my purchases of the century.
(YouTube has some video of Hinrichs playing some of the music live in small settings, as well as what appears to be all the individual tracks from this disc, but they ultimately do not do full justice to the music. It deserves to be heard in full resolution through decent headphones or standard gear for optimum effect.)