Notes and Editorial Reviews
SHADOW PIANO • Xenia Pestova (pn1, toy pn2) • INNOVA 874 (70:33)
S. WILSON 1On the Impossibility of Reflection. BUNK 2Being and Becoming. A. LEWIS 1Schattenklavier.
class="COMPOSER12">HURST 2An Wem: Notes from Underground. J. YOUNG 1X. K. NORMAN 1Fuga Interna (begin)
This is the same Xenia Pestova who just recorded Cage, and who played on the Naxos Mantra (Stockhausen) showcased in someone’s Want List. The work by Scott Wilson, On the Impossibility of Reflection (2011) loosely uses Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition (and indeed quotes that composer). A computer “listens and responds” at various points. The influence of Cage is there, also, and it comes as no surprise to learn that the composer’s web site (scottwilson.ca) offers a Cage quote on its homepage. Thanks to the computer manipulation, this piece offers a skilled aural experience, expertly performed by Pestova. The timing on the back cover of the disc is wrong: it gives 10:28 when it is actually well over 12 minutes.
Lou Bunk’s Being and Becoming (2010) is introduced in the booklet notes via a discussion between “Chick,” “Socrates,” and “Cooper” on the ideas of perception and being. The piece is written for and dedicated to Pestova. The present piece is for prepared piano and subtly used electronics, introducing a “silvery” reflection of sounds. The work could be described as Minimalist, and is generally quiet.
While the title of Andrew Lewis’s Schattenklavier (Shadow Piano, 2009–11) might invoke Berio’s pieces of similar idea (Luftklavier, Wasserklavier, etc), it actually takes as its starting point part of the piano part from Stockhausen’s Gruppen. Over the form of this theme and seven variations (each creating a “shadow” of the theme), Lewis introduces simultaneous computer variations which react to the piano’s. Lewis also introduces deliberate incomplete thought processes into his discourse, to reflect the incomplete nature of Stockhausen’s life (the notes point out that Stockhausen died just prior to a year of concerts to celebrate his 80th birthday). Lewis’s piece is highly impressive, its disjunct lines invoking Stockhausen while also implying that this is all part of a much greater whole. Since this is the longest piece on the disc (albeit by a small margin), it is good that Lewis’s imagination gets time to stretch. His writing is uncompromising, and all the more admirable for it. Pestova plays this music with natural flair and understanding. Remarkable.
The soundworld of An Wem: Notes from Underground (2007) by Derek Hurst for toy piano and electronic sound is intended to “reinforce” the antihero in Dostoyevsky’s writing. The electronics were originally intended for playback via a boombox in a small space, but other amplificatory means can be used in larger venues. The shortest piece on the disc (5:48), this is a fascinating piece that invokes a sort of monumentality, despite its duration. The gestures are often elusive in nature, and rather unsettling. The piece feels (deliberately) ungrounded. Spectral considerations inform X (2010) by John Young, again written for the present performer, in that the piano chords are taken apart and transformed via computer. The piano then interacts with this process. There is no explanation of the work’s single-letter title offered. The fact is, though, this is a piece of notable sonic beauty.
Finally, there is a 2012 piece by Katherine Norman. This is actually the sixth piece in a series entitled Fuga Interna. The work, the notes state, is “about listening, learning to play the piano, age, and memory.” Interestingly the digital element includes part of the first in the series, performed by Philip Mead, who at one point taught Pestova. Unfortunately the piece includes references to the pieces in the series that came before. Based on this disc alone, of course, the listener is destined to remain ignorant of their significance. The works as a whole are inspired by the composer’s playing of the B-Minor Fugue from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Book I (the composer refers to this particular work as her “constant companion” for over 30 years). Perhaps the sense of desolate space at the work’s opening is meant to imply a field of memory. There is a vocal element to this piece also, which is refreshing in the context of this program (it seems to be part of a memory of a piano lesson). The text is available at novamara.com/?page_id=1522 and the score at novamara.com/KNpage/FugaInternabeginmaterials/FugaInterna-beginSCORE.pdf.Norman’s piece is of the utmost beauty, performed with the utmost sensitivity by Pestova. Norman’s work succeeds exactly in its intent, to the extent that at the work’s close, one is left with a feeling of wistful regret analogous to that experienced when accessing old, fold memories. Simply remarkable. A wonderful disc, expertly produced and performed.
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