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Odradek is a non-profit-making, artist-run label launched to empower performers and diversify the recording-artist base. It is not connected to the theatre group, the Toronto-based multi-instrumental trio or the Italian publishing house of the same name, which derives from the fictional creature in Kafka’s The Cares of a Family Man. As the label’s website explains: ‘Like the worried family man in Kafka’s tale, we are also worried... that music might become always more and more an odradek, an indefinable and incomprehensible being... We would like to restore music to its true role, that of artwork... the only one that opens itself towards the possibility of a future: that of a field of research.’

Whether these laudable aims direct the repertoire issued or performers used remains to be seen. The performers on the first four discs will be new to most listeners, whereas most of the works played are not – so their mission is not that of, say, Toccata Classics in concentrating on the unrecorded. Surveys of Schoenberg’s complete piano music, for instance, are not new, so the new artist needs to be something special to stand out. And Pina Napolitano’s debut recording (I believe) certainly is outstanding, even if omitting the 3 Pieces of 1894 and fragmentary sketches (1900-34), or Busoni’s re-interpretation of Op 11 No 2. Her knowledge of the music is manifest in every bar, and she conveys its real quality as music – rather than as an object of academic study – with nice judgment and a fine, delicate technique. Tempi are frequently more measured than in many competitors, for instance Uchida in Opp 11 and 19, or Pollini in general. Where some might miss the latter’s masculine drive and momentum in Op 25, Napolitano has a tensile strength to her playing that is distinctly hers. The Suite is, without doubt, Schoenberg’s piano masterpiece – however much the Op 19 pieces may hog the limelight – yet Napolitano convinces that the Op 33 diptych is its logical extension and refinement.

Duo Miho and Masumi Hio are a husband-and-wife team (meeting as students and marrying after graduation in 2005) and this seems to be their first recording. Arguably, it is the least successful of Odradek’s quartet, with a programme unlikely to excite the interest of collectors since all the pieces have been recorded before, several times. The Rite has received more characterful performances but the Duo’s does have much to commend it, the odd lapse of rhythmic articulation aside. Hindemith’s duet Sonata (as distinct to that for two pianos) and Ravel’s Rapsodie are original works for the medium (the latter only orchestrated a year or so after completion). In the Sonata, the Duo faces stiff competition, while the Ravel is atmospherically done but not strong enough itself to merit special attention.

Mei Yi Foo’s programme ticks the most boxes for Odradek’s checklist, not least for including the premiere recording of Unsuk Chin’s Six Etudes. Even though the title work, Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys (1969), has appeared on disc before (twice), it is hardly mainsteam repertoire – likewise Musica ricercata by Ligeti (one of Unsuk’s teachers), which has mustered over half-a-dozen recordings, the music more familiar in the arrangement of six numbers for wind quintet. Mei Yi’s playing catches the whimsy behind Gubaidulina and Ligeti’s sets nicely, but their combined total of 25 miniatures (14 of which do not here last beyond 91 seconds) hardly stretches her technique and there is more than a grain of inconsequentiality to several of them. Her ability is proved in the more extended pieces – The Woodpecker and the concluding Forest Musicians in Musical Toys, and Musica ricercata’s Tempo di Valse, Bartók memorial Adagio and Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi – but most especially in Unsuk’s Studies, which are thrown off with élan.

Domenico Codispoti is tailor-made for Odradek – a distinguished performer with a formidable technique in what appears to be his second recording. His account of Liszt’s Sonata is gripping from start to finish, measured in tempo but with a palpable understanding of the overall structure and relish of the work’s bigger moments. The benchmarks lie with Argerich, Arrau, Brendel, Pollini, Richter and, of more recent recordings, Paul Lewis. Codispoti may not surpass those, but he nestles in close behind them and his supporting programme will appeal to many. The Tre sonetti del Petrarca in their 1859 guise, S161 – not the earlier 1846 set, S158 – are beautifully rendered, as is Granados’ Lisztian El Amor y la Muerte from Goyescas, which shares Tre sonetti’s visual impetus.

Production values overall are good, the sound is clear if occasionally two-dimensional, captured at a rather low level but with excellent dynamic range. Notes are in English with all bar the Duo’s also in Italian, mostly by Hugh Collins Rice.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing