FREDERIC RZEWSKI (b.1938): Hard Cuts for Piano and Ensemble, for Solo Piano: 4 Pieces, The Housewife's Lament.

Catalogue Number: 08Q072

Label: Naxos

Reference: 8.559759

Format: CD

Price: $11.98

Description: The 4 Pieces were composed shortly after the astonishing People United variations, and was conceived as a kind of sequel to that great work. The four movements are all based on a theme with a similar contour, this time Rzewski's own, which is put through a similar compendium of pianistic invention and compositional virtuosity; some of the treatments to which the theme is subjected are in fact strongly reminiscent of individual variations in People United, though this is Rzewski cunningly self-referencing, not repeating himself, and there are plenty of new ideas that could equally well have found their way into the earlier work. A first movement with an atmosphere of violent protest is followed by a fleet-footed, twitchily syncopated 'scherzo', then a rather bleak and darkly dramatic slow movement, relieved by examples of the composer's most ravishingly tender and sensuous harmonization of the theme. The fourth movement alternates pounding 'orchestral' tutti and gloriously neo-romantic 'solo' treatments of the theme, beginning and ending with the sounding of a strident alarum. Hard Cuts, for piano and what Grainger would have called an 'elastically scored' ensemble follows a similar wide-ranging free variation form, here based on the BACH motif, much elaborated, with spiky rhythms and pungent bitonality in the first movement, richly textured, ornamented lyricism in the second, and pulsing, quasi-minimalistic motion in the third. Lament is a set of variations on a blandly inoffensive mid-19th century tune, at first in a teasingly misleading modernist polytonal presentation, but soon settling into tonal territory with a sequence of marvellously skillful classical pastiches, an excursion into a kind of bluesy protest song, and a priceless piece of music theatre (which certainly works better if you can see what the pianist is doing), before a surprisingly touching coda. Ralph van Raat (piano), Lunapark; Arnold Marinissen.

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