Adelaide-based pianist and composer Ashley Hribar (b. 1975) consistently works with classical repertoire in interesting and innovative ways. These include the curation of a series of concerts across Germany in which all ten of Scriabin’s piano sonatas were performed in conjunction with massive projections of opals as a means to explore synaesthetic qualities of these enthralling works.
Hribar also has a long-standing interest in silent film and has performed his own scores to accompany many screenings, including of legendary German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926). This is the inspiration for Hribar’s latest album, Faust: A Mortal’s Tale, which assembles works by Rachmaninov, Debussy, Liszt and French-Russian composer Georgy Catoire (1861-1926), among others, into a programmatic retelling of the Faust legend. There’s a twist though: all have been arranged by Hribar to utilise the unique expressive attributes of the Australian Stuart & Sons ‘Big Beleura’ piano which, with 108 keys, is the world’s first nine-octave four-pedal piano.
Hribar also seeks to reinstate the lost classical art of improvisation, as he puts it, “to tamper with the written score, to not take the notes too seriously, but in a thoughtful way.” The result is an expansively recorded, rich and virtuosic album of heightened depth and colour, not dissimilar in essence from the aforementioned Scriabin performances. Hribar’s dynamic pianism is evident throughout, particularly in his crackling performance of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1; other highlights include Black Earth by fellow pianist and composer Fazil Say (b. 1970) and Jelly Roll Morton’s appropriately named Fingerbreaker.