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TO . . ., 3
Hear Museum Art (B.L.C./Greenfest) <> Mad Dreams and Brits
THE PRINTED WORD
RECENT RELEASES, 31
COMPOSER INDEX, 34
BULLETIN BOARD, 35
Chamber Players In Concert for Impact
Birtwistle: Refrains and Choruses
Review of CD
NEW AMERICAN PIANO MUSIC
This CD, the result of a nationally placed call for scores by pianist Teresa McCollough, contains an attractive clutch of recent keyboard works exhibiting various degrees of tonal focus. The harmonic languages heard range from the pop oriented clarity of Vernacular Dances (1996) by Charles Griffin and barely clouded functionality of Henry Martins Prelude and Fugue XIIIA Slow Drag (1996) to the jazz hued spikiness of Alex Shapiros Sonata for Piano (1999) and dissonant East Coast leaning etudes by David Rakowski (though this last is harmonically grounded by employment of ostinato figures and repeated notes). This wide-ranging gradation of tonal employment imparts a good bit of overall variety to the release.
Your reviewer especially liked the Rakowski and Shapiro selections. The latter, while obviously derived from older models, manages to avoid imparting a sense of cookbook recipe to the format. The scherzo closer, while fluffy and short in relation to the two substantial preceding movements, works surprisingly well, coming off as a slam bang coda in the way the last measures of Beethovens first Razumovsky quartet do. Rakowskis three selections [BAM! (1991), Nocturnal (1991), and Close Enough for Jazz (1995)] make effective colorist use of piano writing and demonstrate a nicely expressed sense of structural balance. And pieces by both composers contain a palpable level of motivic economy, confident and easy manner of melodic speech, and clear if not attention-getting sense of crafty sophistication.
Martins essay (excerpted from an extensive prelude and fugue set) hews very closely to ragtime conventions but neatly foils expectations by having the fugue blossom organically in the middle of the prelude without unduly upsetting the basic Joplinesque architecture. Elizabeth Pizars Strains and Restraints (1984) shows profoundly strong sonic kinship to Debussy but manages to make its lack of flashiness a virtue and does a good job of spinning out material from limited resources without becoming long-winded. The outer movements of the Griffin composition, while containing obvious influence of pop, blues, and Latin American idioms, demonstrate a more bedrock affinity to process music while notably shortening up the rate of unfolding. Stitching together sections of repeated fragments, these bookend entities come across as drastically truncated replies to works such as Reichs Music for 18 Musicians. But for the most part, Griffin manages to pace these fragments welljust before one has had enough of a particular gesture, another supplants it. The sweetly expressive central slow movement, reminiscent of pop ballads, provides a welcome contrast.
Sonata No. 2, Op.121 (1985) by Tomas Svoboda is a bit less successful. While putting forth a certain easygoing charm, the work speaks in a manner extremely reminiscent of Stravinsky and Copland and cleaves more obviously to hoary structural formulas than might be ideal. Steve Heitzegs Sandhill Crane (Migration Variations) (1998) contains a fetching underlying ecological program but seems underdeveloped and scattered musically. It yokes together tiny fragments that dont connect all that effectively to each other, possessing more variety of expression (ranging from extended techniques to Cagelike silence to process bursts) than can be ably reconciled in an eight-minute selection.
McCollough performs well, exhibiting an attractive tone quality, good sensitivity to voicing, and able technique. Editing is very good. Sound quality is generally fine, though pedal noise is often audible in soft passages. Theres much to like heredefinitely worth a listen.