"Musical Toys" - Mei Yi Foo

2013 "BBC Newcomer of the Year" for this disc, Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo gives the world premiere recording of Unsuk Chin’s extremely virtuosic Piano Études, which take up and develop on the legacy of Ligeti’s. Following the artist’s recommendation, the listener is invited to create their own playlist, and playfully intersperse these among the other “musical toys” on the album, including Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata and Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys.



"Mei Yi Foo is a unique musician, who has played my Piano Etudes with astounding perfection and creativity."

Unsuk Chin


“The world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s piano etudes is the ear- catcher on Mei Yi Foo’s debut album, its Cage-like plinks intermingling with robust grand tones. Two sets of sound adventures by Gubaidulina and Ligeti take the ear where it has never thought to go before, and with a pianist it can really trust.”
La Scena Musicale “CD of the Week” Norman Lebrecht May 21, 2012
“A delightfully concieved, presented and played collection of minatures. Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys charm, Ligeti is riveting, while Unsuk Chin’s Etudes should rapidly enter the repertoire.”

5 STARS - BBC Music Magazine, Christopher Dingle August 2012


“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... Mei Yi's playing catches the whimsy behind Gubaidulina and Ligeti's sets nicely... 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.

International Piano Magazine Guy Rickards, September 2012


"A surprisingly plausible compilation of three musically and aesthetically highly different piano cycles... Already in her interpretation of Gubaidulina’s children pieces Mei Yi Foo captures the listener with her conciseness: she is able to lend each... miniature an unmistakeable atmosphere... forming them into a series of suggestive tone pictures... while bringing out their numerous humorous moments. While here [in Gubai- dulina's pieces], playfulness predominates, her pianistic approach to Chin’s Etudes – which are being recorded here for the first time – is impressive for its technical brilliance and instinctive surety... and are powerfully and sensitively realized. Not only the interlaced rhythmic impulses of ‘Scalen’... and the polyphonic aggregations in ‘Toccata’, but also the sensitive approach to timbral details for instance in ‘In C’ and in.... ‘Grains’ receive a compelling realisation. In Ligeti’s ‘Musica Ricercata’ Mei Yi Foo convinces with her concentrated and agogically compelling performance... The production... is enormously exciting, as it forms in its whole a labyrinth of 31 tracks, through which the listener – as explicitly wished by the pianist – can work his or her way through also with the random function of the CD player. The result is striking: the single pieces, as different as they might be, comment on each other again and again."

5 Stars - Klassik: Pianistic Labyrinth Dr. Stefan Drees February 2, 2013


Picked as #5 Disc of the Year (Premio della Critica)

Musica e Dischi Oreste Bossini, December 2012


“Mei Yi Foo is a major talent, and brings together her gifts for playing the piano with those of how to program an unforgettable performance."

David Jaeger February 5, 2013


"Mei Yi Foo succeeds very convincingly in the balancing act between stupendous dexterity and the expressive articulation of the occasionally abrupt, almost montage-like character changes within the etudes"

Neue Zuercher Zeitung Hartmut Lück February 22, 2013


“Taken together, these three compositions offer the three different approaches of composers interested in exploiting the ambiguity of the verb “play,” applying simultaneously to both making music and playing with toys...
The overall result is one of a program that is sure to engage the most serious listener while seeking out that listener’s funny bone at the same time."
Examiner: A thoroughly playful recital recording from Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo

Stephen Smoliar February 25, 2013


"The performances, so far as I could judge, are impressively correct, and the recorded sound is excellent. Certainly worth a
listen for the adventurous."

Music Web International Paul Corfield Godfrey, March 26, 2013


BBC Music Magazine Newcomer of the Year

“A delightfully conceived, presented and played collection of miniatures. Here is an original artist with formidable pianistic powers, vivid imagination and seductive wit, who will win new audiences for this dazzling repertoire.”

Awards Jury of the 2013 BBC Music Magazine Awards


“When the Malaysian/born pianist Mei Yi Foo was anointed Newcomer of the Year at the BBC Music Magazine Awards last week, most of the invited assembly, including critics, had never heard of her or her CD or her record company. But then, with the award awarded, she sat down at the piano to give us a taster: three little late-20th century dazzlers, impish and poetic. Immediately we were her devoted fans.

Mei Yi Foo and her Musical Toys won’t be unknown for much longer... From Monday the CDs of Odradek Records, an adventurous not-for-profit venture based in Kansas, will officially go on sale in Britain. Perfect timing in these grim days, for Musical Toys, above all, delights in the importance of being playful...

The work that makes the CD essential is Unsuk Chin’s set of Six Piano Etudes... The fifth is a hurtling toccata, wittily delivered by Foo’s flying fingers. Liberating, that’s what this CD is, as well as a joy for ever.”

Times, Geoff Brown, April 19 2013


“It must be the first time [Gubaidulina] has been portrayed as a Lego figure on a CD sleeve...”

BBC Music Magazine Awards Issue May 2013


By common consent... the star turn came from an artist few of us had heard of, London-based Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo, Newcomer of the Year. Hers was the disc you wanted to rush out and buy on the strength of what we heard. Its menagerie is a trio of playful study-sets...

Introduced in a whimsical little speech by composer and admirer
Dai Fujikura, Foo showcased one miniature by each composer, a sample mix much as she proposes in a note for the well- presented disc. It comes from a label, Odradek Records, the newness of which gives it equal status in the award category, and which describes itself as "a democratic classical cooperative, non-profit and artist-controlled label and concert association, promoting new artists and fresh repertoire". With five of the pianists due to appear in various mini-festivals around Italy and elsewhere, there’s faith that the CD lives on as a welcome object to take home after a recital.

Arts Desk Newcomers triumph at BBC Music Magazine Awards
David Nice, April 10 2013


“There was no contest from Janina Fialkowska and even the charismatic Angelika Kirchschlager; Mei Yi Foo swept us all away with the canny choice of pieces by Gubaidulina, Unsuk Chin and Ligeti from her Best Newcomer award-winning disc ‘Musical Toys’.
As for ‘Musical Toys’, I thought it might just be through her canny choice of repertoire that Foo triumphed, but having listened to the disc a couple of times, I hear so much imagination in the distant voices of the Gubaidulina, while the Chin is technically terrific”

I’ll Think of Something Later
David Nice, April 11, 2013


"Mei Yi Foo’s debut disc deserves all the praise it has garnered... the sleeve art is delightful, and suggests that what might seem on paper to be an intractable recital of modern piano music could actually turn out to be something highly enjoyable. Delicious even... This release comes from Odradek Records, a cooperative, artist-controlled, not-for-profit venture. It’s well engineered and handsomely annotated – a desert island disc."

The Arts Desk
Graham Rickson, May 25, 2013


“This is an excellent introduction to the genre of piano miniatures in the 20th and 21st centuries... [Mei Yi] exhibits intelligence in programming, sensitivity of touch, digital brilliance and tonal allure.”

Singapore Straits Times
Chang Tou Liang, May 2 2013


“Suprise Package: Mei Yi Foo’s Musical Toys brings Chin, Gubaidulina and Ligeti together in an unexpected recipe for commercial success... The album has been a rapid hit, reaching No 3 on Amazon’s classical chart and becoming the best seller among Odradek’s first five releases. Topping that off, it won Foo the BBC Music Magazine award for best newcomer...”

Classical Music Magazine
Phillip Sommerich, June 2013


“Foo’s sensitive touch and her foray into different sound worlds yield delightful results in Musical Toys. Utilizing a playful simplicity across a rich harmonic palette, she is wistfully humorous rather than bold, and her delicate approach to Gubaidulina... is compelling.... Foo coherently articulates complex structures in the Ligeti and the Chin. Chin’s lovely Etudes, in their premiere recording, are full of sonorous textures. Foo draws particular attention to the distinct layers in Chin’s gamelan-inspired “In C,” and brings unflagging momentum to the agitated rhythms and repeated figurations of etudes like “Scherzo ad libitum.” Ligeti’s Musica ricercata contain brilliant contrasts, and Foo’s ability to sustain disparate layers, such as a flowing melody over a vigorous ostinato, is remarkable. Her clarity and rhythmic precision decisively recreate the inventive architecture of these pieces.”

Clavier Companion
Sang Woo Kang, May/June 2013


“The intimately childlike qualities in these fascinating pieces are balanced with adult sophistication... Pianist Mei Yi Foo plays with a disarmingly light touch and a sense of whimsy that is perfect for this repertory. Paradoxically, it takes great sophistication and intelligence to pull this off. A delightful surprise, highly recommended.”

American Record Guide
Jack Sullivan, June 2013


Mei Yi Foo... made [Lachenmann’s] music seem like childsplay... Foo’s ever-extending repertoire of “musical toys” [are] both simple and complex (sometimes both together)... Foo makes you visualize everything she plays, partly because you can read the adventures in her volatile and sometimes alarming facial expressions... There was no respite at all in Chin’s Six Piano Etudes. I doubt if there are many other pianists in the world who would dare the entire sequence live. But Foo, who in one of her charming introductions told us that the composer introduced her as “my victim”, negotiated them all without breaking a sweat. Her modesty is endearing; her genius is now unquestionable.

Arts Desk
David Nice, April 20, 2013


“The young Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo scooped an audience prize for her album of contemporary piano pieces, Musical Toys: she proved herself a terrific player, assured, intelligent and glitter-fingered. Her career, we heard, has been on the up since she was spotted by the composer Unsuk Chin, who noted that she'd had three awful reviews of the type that meant she was probably a really interesting musician. ‘I don't only thrive on bad reviews,’ she added, accepting her prize. ‘I like good ones too...’ I am sure she will win many more."

Jessica Duchen
April 10, 2013


“Pianist Foo treats us to a disc of nursery miniatures and grown- up studies, but she plays everything with such joyful, uninhibited innocence and unerring precision that the titular embrace is apt. There is a playfulness to the whole album. She varies her tone in the fourteen toys by Gubaidulina to sound like the wheezing dissonances of an accordion, stuttering distant fanfares, birds pecking, bovine moodiness, toytown drums and the woody echo of a twilit forest - fantasies to charm the childish mind. She gives the first ever recording of Unsuk Chin's Six Piano Etudes - but surely not [to] be the last. These are thrilling technically virtuosic pieces completed a decade ago and played here with total assurance by Foo whose interpretation from the threatening crescendos of the Scherzo to the formidable scales of Scalen and the intensely rhythmic Toccata must be definitive. She's also not far off giving an unassailable performance of Ligeti's witty Musica Ricercata, in which each movement adds a note from the monotone Sostenuto to the dodecaphone Andante Homage to Frescobaldi. Foo, a child of Malaysia... is very much a pianist to watch. Pass it on.”

Words and Music: Chin Up Rick Jones August 8, 2013


“Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo, winner of the 2013 BBC Music Magazine Newcomer of the Year, has just released her second album, Musical Toys, on Odradek. Her approach to performance, on an unprepared, standard piano, playing intense miniatures by Bartók, Ligeti, György Kurtág and Helmut Lachenmann, abstractly parallels the principles of the prepared piano by framing serious compositions inside an imagined world of innocent, unhindered play. Technically demanding works are presented without sacrificing a near-prankish, Cageian sense of mischief, so that possibly intimidating, structurally complex and reflective seriousness is played with a light, fluent sense of joy and adventure, liberating the piano’s enduring capacity to surprise.”

Sinfini Music Toying with the piano's history
Paul Morley, 20 May 2013

Mei Yi Foo


Track List

These are just preview samples. You need a valid account and be logged in to hear the full tracks

Musical Toys - I


Musical Toys - II


Musical Toys - III


Musical Toys - IV


Unsuk Chin - Six Piano Études - I


Unsuk Chin - Six Piano Études - II


Unsuk Chin - Six Piano Études - III


György Ligeti - Musica Ricercata - I


György Ligeti - Musica Ricercata - II


György Ligeti - Musica Ricercata - III

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