Matei Varga (b. 1980) is an award-winning Romanian pianist based in New York City, and The Year That Never Was is his third album for Dorian Sono Luminus. Unlike many of his colleagues who “probably prefer to think back to 2020 as a year that never happened,” says Varga, “I felt liberated by the lack of schedules, appointments and the pressure to be productive… instead I embraced seclusion and enjoyed the time off which was forced upon us.” 

Matei Varga

This album is the result, and on it Varga shares his joy at reaching a new appreciation for the music of underrated Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), an exceptional pianist, symphonist and prolific creator of popular works and songs for the screen. But it’s his short-form piano pieces chosen by Varga for showcasing here: compact, beautifully structured fireworks, constantly exploding with melodies and sprightly rhythms. 

Varga has interspersed these with others he considers “masters of the miniature” – including Chopin, Domenico Scarlatti, Gershwin – recontextualising Lecuona within the trajectory of classical...