This disc was sent to me gratis in consideration for a review.
Ms. Bilicka was born in Poland. She studied and earned her degrees there, with a further two years of study in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2019, she joined the piano faculty of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University, in Logan Utah. I have watched several of her YouTube videos and was impressed with her fluid sound and effortless, assured technique. Thus I was eager to listen to her debut CD, which appears on Centaur Records.
For this album, with its "Impressionistic influences" theme, Ms. Bilicka adopts a playing style which illustrates a marvelous, elegant touch and musical sensitivity. This works splendidly with much of the recorded program on this CD. Specifically, Scriabin's Poem in F-sharp Major, Ravel's Une Barque sur l'ocean and Szymanowski's Prelude in C minor simply shimmer with color and delicacy, and with lovely legato singing lines. These qualities also shine in her playing of Chopin. Here she plays for us his Ballade #4 (in F minor) and the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante in E-flat Major, all beautifully played with a rhapsodic freedom.
It is in her Chopin, though, where I wished her playing possessed a touch more authority and joie de vivre. As beautiful as it is, I longed for a bit more flare and dynamic range. The same applies to Ravel's Alborada del gracioso, which tends to sound a little too careful. However, again, there are many positive attributes as well. At a slightly slower (and more sensible) tempo than usual, she does manage to play more of those repeated triplets better than many pianists do, without suddenly slowing it down. (No such tempo change is indicated in the score.) So it's a tradeoff: play all the notes - and play them well - or dazzle us with a dashing tempo. I personally prefer the former because it's cleaner and closer to the printed score. However, a little more brilliance would have been welcome.
However, do not make too much of these observations. I make mention not to be critical, but to point out differences as compared to other pianists' recordings of these works. The competition in this music is fierce, but there is certainly a place for the more delicate touch that Elzbieta Bilicka brings to it. Especially when it is so musically involving and highlights the "Impressionistic influences" theme of this program. And let's not forget how lovely are the Scriabin, the Szymanowski, and Ravel's Une Barque.
All in all, I enjoy this pianist. Her playing is crisp and clean, while bringing out the most wonderful singing lines. Her style for this album excels at light-and-shadow shading (thus the CD is perfectly titled), and her phrasing is musical. For those who prefer their Chopin to be a little less grandiose and more singing, then this concert will fit the bill nicely.
Finally, the recorded sound is very fine. I initially thought the Scriabin started off sounding a touch boxed in, but the sound opens up naturally thereafter. Engineers Michael Palmer and Wesley Morrison have captured a realistic piano sound, within a warm acoustic.
This is a lovely debut and I look forward to more from this pianist. In particular, I'd love to hear her play some Beethoven.