Month: December 2021

  • Vibraphone and 4-Hand Piano Chamber Music

    Scenes from A Life (Navona 6386) is the title of the concluding work on this new release featuring music by composer Monika Gurak.  Most of the album focuses on music for piano, but opens with a rather delightful set of 15 Humoresques for vibraphone and piano.  The light nature of the pieces adds a whimsical opening to this album with a quality that is reminiscent perhaps of indie-comedy scoring.  These are each rather brief pieces that have just a hint of melodic material that gets introduced and quickly ends.  The vibraphone sometimes adds a jazzier quality to the music that flits along.  The piano adds a touch of the emotional, wistful quality as the pieces bubble along.

    The remainder of the album features music for piano four-hands.  Romance Sonambulo would make for a nice little encore number with its engaging thematic writing, Spanish-inflected musical gestures and rhythms, and dramatic flair.  Gurak's music tends to have a real song-like sensibility which makes these pieces quite accessible.  A Story (2020) is a three-movement work that opens with a delicate introduction ("Awaiting") and then shifts into a more romantic ballad-like central movement that moves into a more exhilarating finale.  Her Polish heritage is hinted at a bit in "My Country" where the melodies and musical gestures flirt with folk-like styles.  But, the music is firmly in a modern romantic style, filled with lots of arpeggios and that keep the momentum flowing as the thematic material unfolds.  This is especially true in the title work that closes off the album.

    Gurak's music draws the listener in to what amounts to a gorgeous, romantic musical journey.  Performances here by Emma Colette Moss and Scott Downing provide a touching interpretive approach.

  • A Ninth For Two

    Music for two pianos is a genre that often allows for ways to hear larger-scale concert music pared down into a more intimate genre.  Throughout the 19th Century it was common practice for pianists to create transcriptions of symphonies and operas for their own public performances.  A wider opportunity for published works for the advanced amateur also encouraged these many transcriptions.  Franz Liszt is perhaps most well known for doing just this and his transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies, albeit for solo (!) piano, are among the most challenging in the repertoire.  They give a chance to admire Beethoven's music as well as Liszt's own pianism.  The current release ((Navona 6382) is a new version of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony but for two pianos!

    Pianist Eliane Rodrigues has taken Liszt's work as a point of departure and inspiration for her own adaptation for 2 pianos.  This new performance is not a direct orchestral reduction, nor a note-for-note reassignment of Liszt's transcription.  Instead, Rodrigues applies her own sense of the Beethoven's pianistic style with her own reading of the symphony.  It allows her to craft a piece that sounds in line with Beethoven's solo sonatas and this allows for a greater reveal of some of the inner workings of the symphony, especially in the development sections.

    Nina Smeets is Rodrigues' daughter and this adds an additional poignancy to the performance as well as we hear these two performers playing together.  There is a unity of attack and approach to shaping phrases both thematically and in the accompanimental sections that draw the listener in to this very special performance.  There is plenty of technical virtuosity to go around here and it is fascinating to hear how this transfers from one piano to the other as echo effects.

    Certainly, this represents one of the finer releases in either soloists discography to date.  It allows for the listener to enjoy Beethoven's music in this new way and stylistically it works quite well.