Review by Marc Medwin
QUOTATIONS & HOMAGES • Nadia Shpachenko, Genevieve Feiwen Lee, Vicki Ray, Aron Kallay, Sarah Gibson, Thomas Kotcheff (pn); Nadia Shpachenko, Genevieve Feiwen Lee (toy pn); Nadia Shpachenko (voc) • REFERENCE 726 (72:17)
FLAHERTY Rainbow Tangle. Igor to Please. MAZZOLI Bolts of Loving Thunder. YATES Epitaphs and Youngsters: Home. Purpose. Wilderness. On the Whole. IVANOVA 6 Fugitive Memories: Composition No. 1. Fugitive No. 2. No “N”. Quasi una Ciaccona. Cimbalom Játék. Debutie. NORTON Piano Piece for Mr. Carter’s 100th Birthday. BORECKI Accidental Mozart. FELSENFELD Down to You is Up: Good Times Just Seem to Pass Me By. So Cold/So Lonely. Everything Was Alright. MATHESON Bagatelle
The title of Nadia Shpachenko’s new disc of piano music did not bode well. If quotation and homage are poorly done, the boredom factor eclipses all else in the listening experience. Actually, the title is the most mundane aspect of a superb and superbly recorded program of pieces as fresh as they are ready to pay respect to the traditions that led to their creation.
Far too few artists pay sufficient attention to program order; framing this set of relative miniatures with the works of Tom Flaherty was a stroke of genius. His integration of electronic and acoustic elements speaks to a long-fostered commitment to both, and his way of introducing the electronic element into acoustic textures is subtle and imaginative. His homage to Messiaen, whimsically but aptly titled Rainbow Tangle, takes a turn away from piano timbre at the two-minute mark, where low-register rumbles subside to admit what might be manipulated overtones. Whatever the source of the sound, it is as if the door to another realm is opened, a delicately dramatic gesture of initiation. If Igor to Please’s title prompts something crossing a grin and a grimace, the music certainly does not. Performed expertly by Shpachenko with pianists Sarah Gibson, Aron Kallay, Thomas Kotcheff, Genevieve Feiwen Lee, and Vicki Ray, it is an absolutely spellbinding mixture of mysticism and raw but somehow jubilant brutality. Its blending of toy and real pianos, amidst translucent electronics, is a beautiful and moving model of what revisitation and evocation of a historically monumental chord (from Stravinsky’s infamous Le sacre du printemps) can achieve via an alchemical process.
There is not one cliché or superficial piece on offer here. The tonally inflected profundity of Peter Yates’s Epitaphs and Youngsters, which he calls a mélodrame for solo piano, finds Shpachenko in pianist and speaker’s roles, quoting pearls of wisdom and sardonic quips from Glenn Gould and W. C. Fields. Then, there is Adam Borecki’s uproariously funny treatment, in variation, of a well-known Mozart sonata, which, I might add, has a little bit of the wit and inclusive piano vocabulary of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations about it, though of course in microcosm. On the Beethoven front, James Matheson offers up a Bagatelle based on the final movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, again played by the complement of six pianists. It might be best to describe this wild ride of a miniature as channeling Beethoven’s Romantic harmonic language through the pantonalities of Ives, Busoni, or Sorabji. Perhaps dearest to my heart is Daniel Felsenfeld’s Down to You is Up, a rather astonishing monument to one of my favorite groups, The Velvet Underground. Particularly effective is his fantasy on All Tomorrow’s Parties, in which Felsenfeld encapsulates that raw power and hypnotic repetition that made the Velvets so important and so great. This is not soul, though it shares some grit with that musical urbanity. It is the spark of Minimalism in its Ur-form, and the composer understands and makes it his own, just as Charles Dodge did with Samuel Beckett’s Cascando.
Anchoring all are two essential elements. Shpachenko’s playing is everything it needs to be and more. Her Mozart fragments are idiomatic, especially evident as they dissolve into the “other” elements in each variation, bespeaking a complete knowledge of the piano’s history and literature commensurate with these composers’ all-encompassing rhetoric. Eras seem not to exist for her, and neither does musical dogma, allowing her the freedom to speak the music’s multifarious dialects. Capturing all of it is a first-rate recording. True, many recent recordings have achieved new standards, but this one has a depth, clarity, and transparency that work equally rather than one sacrificing the others. The acoustical space is resonant without taxing listener patience, a perfect environment for music of such protean character. Excellent notes top off an extremely worthy package. Marc Medwin