Saturday, July 03, 2010

Cage.Frey.Vriezen.Feldman.Ayres.Johnson Manion (Edition Wandelweiser)

An absolutely delightful recording, beautifully selected and performed by Dante Boon. The gently spiky "Etude 2" from Cage's "Etudes Australes" opens Disc 1, providing a fine introduction and contrast to Jurg Frey's gorgeous, and fetchingly titled "Sam Lazaro Bros", a soft set of elegant chords, arrayed in an almost stately manner, those with delicious irregularity, somewhat reminiscent of Satie's "Ogives". It hangs in midair, raindrops on a thin vine, very beautiful. Five very brief, almost baroque (and quite fun) pieces by Samuel Vriezen lead into Feldman's "Last Pieces" (1959), four short compositions. The third, "Very Slow. Soft. Durations are Free." is a deep, almost static work, superbly played by Boon, clearly pointing toward the composer's mature music.

"Two Pieces for Piano" (1935) by Cage are next, both vivacious and surging, followed by four more examples of pianistic brevity, this time by Richard Ayres; they're dreamy, frilly and perhaps a bit slight but fit in well as mini-bonbons before Cage's "One" (1987). It's almost as though Boon took the Frey piece and stretched it out even further, each cluster drifting up, the space between them palpable; fantastic performance. But there's more! And we're still on Disc 1. Tom Johnson, who can be as musically geeky as they come, manages to overcome that tendency (as he often does) in "Tilework for Piano" (2003) "in which a fifteen-beat phrase can be covered by a simple rhythmical three-note pattern that appears at five different speeds." And you can actually hear that if you listen closely, though more likely you'll just be entranced by the dance of tilings as they're overlaid in increasingly complex ways while still retaining enough clarity that one isn't entirely lost. Lovely piece. 34 seconds of trilling Vriezen closes out the first disc.

As excellent as the offerings have been on Disc 1, the real jewel in this set is Michael Manion's "Music for Solo Piano" (2006), 34 minutes of bliss. It's disarmingly simple, just a slow sequence of soft chords, often repeated (or almost repeated--Boon's a master of the subtle variation in pressure or duration) but chosen with exquisite care. The shifts take on a real dramatic quality, the small variations within the chords forming ghost melodies. The music floats through the room, chord by chord, through one door out the other, alien and beautiful. A great work of music, I've had it on almost constant rotation for days.

Eva-Maria Houben - Works for Piano (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two more sets of spare, slightly somber music for piano by Houben (also performing), who I've previously not heard to the best of my knowledge. Though tonal, her work isn't easy, imposing fairly severe listening demands due to length and iteration. The opening piece, "Klavier" (2003), for instance, spends its first 15 minutes in a kind of slow seesaw between simultaneously struck very low and very high notes/chords that vary only slightly and a mid-range one that alters some what more often. It's hypnotic, after a fashion, and oen comes to appreciate the contrasts and progressions, even if the latter is more in one's head than the music. After about 15 minutes, the second half turns even darker, the heavy chords predominant, trudging toward its conclusion. It's very moving, though, resolute like a martyr trodding toward the pyre. "Drei Chorale (penser à Satie)" (2007) feels substantially lighter despite consisting of sets of four descending chords in its first half (which, I must say, don't strike me as being preoccupied with Satie). Again, about a third of the way through, Houben switches gears, reducing the chords from four to three, in a low-high-low arc, then to sets of five in the final third. The calmness, even stateliness, is very effective and does give the strong effect of thinking, considering. On "Senza Espressione" (2007), however, the the paired scale-like lines, often one descending, one ascending, while attractive and nicely spaced, feel a bit too much like an exercise, not attaining that delicious balance between simplicity and depth as in, say, the aforementioned "Ogives".

Disc Two is largely given over to the 46 minutes of "Und Entfernt Sich Wieder - Singend" (2005) (And Swimming Away Again - Singing), mostly resonant low key, struck in brief patterns, allowed to hang in space. Here I do get something of a Satie feel, but the Satie of the mystic, Rosicrucian period. There are slight moments of respite where Houben moves higher on the keyboard and introduces a regular cadence but, for the most part, it's like staring down into a dark pool of water deep in a well, seeing the occasional soft, black ripple. On the one hand, it's quite effective and, again, moving, but it's a huge amount to try and grasp, spartan as it is. I've a feeling I'll come back to it in the future, each listen providing more shape and color, like gradually adjusting one's eyes to the dark. The recording closes with "Three Lullabies" (2007), the most overtly beautiful pieces here and, I mus say, my favorites. Gorgeous sequences of paired chords here, single rays of light there, floating and somewhat eerie, with just enough sourness to impart a troubled dream.

A fine recording; I want to hear more from Ms. Houben.

Tim Parkinson - Piano Piece Piano Piece (Edition Wandelweiser)

Richard did a very good write-up of this release recently, one that to an extent captures my opinion of it, though I think I'm a tad less charitable. It took several listens, on my part, to get into it at all; I first hear little but random strings of notes, random, moreover, in a particularly "classical" way that didn't sit so well with me. Especially coming during the period I was greatly enjoying much of the music above. Little by little, however, the first of the two pieces here ("Piano Piece (2006)") began to ingratiate itself to my ears. The initial scalar runs were a bit off-putting, overly dainty, but took shape retrospectively when the ensuing dark, mordant notes appeared. This seems to be the best way (for me) to listen, to hear the sections, insofar as I can differentiate them, in contrast to those immediately before and after, sort of holding them in my aural hands, weighing them, noticing the different shadings, hues, etc. I'm not sure it reached the same degree of profundity as the Frey, Cage, Manion or Houben works but, as Richard pointed out, there's a certain uniqueness in play that is very winning and, moreover, makes me think there might be levels I'm not yet privy to.

Still, I couldn't worm my way nearly as much into "Piano Piece (2007)". In the notes to it, Parkinson writes, "To work, for a period of time, until that work and time is over." Enticing, but the work so portrayed seems to me too akin to the sort of thin I do during most weekdays, that is, rather mundane bookkeeping. Here, the randomness doesn't, to me, happen upon many areas of fascination or beauty. There are moments, to be sure, and had those been collected in a ten-minute piece as opposed to strung out here and there over 35, perhaps it would have worked for me. As is, I found myself losing patience, unable to get into sync with Parkinsons's vision. As above, even more so perhaps, I leave open the strong possibility that this is more my problem than his. I do get the sense of a keen intellect in action here. As with Houben, I'm very curious to hear more and, eventually, to hear what I've been missing.

Edition Wandelweiser

available stateside from erstdist


Richard Pinnell said...

Brian, if its Ok for me to make an assumption that I might have an idea about your taste in music, then I would recommend Houben's Von da nach da to you, compositions for violin, sax and organ. Wonderful music.

Thinking about it, The Parkinson has a wonderful sense of Englishness to it.

Brian Olewnick said...

Thanks, Richard. Been a longstanding project of mine to work my way through the wanderweiser catalog.

....I knew there was some indefinable quality about the Parkinson I didn't like.... :-)

antoine beuger said...

thanks, brian, for your beautifully written and very sensitive review!

Anonymous said...

where are the download links?