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Rzewski: Piano Music / Satterlee

Rzewski / Satterlee
Release Date: 03/25/2014 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559760  
Composer:  Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Robert Satterlee
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RZEWSKI Fantasia. Second Hand, or Alone at Last (6 Novelettes for piano left hand). De Profundis for Speaking Pianist Robert Satterlee (pn) NAXOS 8.559760 (55: 38)

If you relish really creative modern music, you’ve got to love Frederic Rzewski’s compositions. They are, for lack of a better term, “out there” in the way that Leif Segerstam and Meredith Monk are also out there—on the Read more fringe of the classical Zeitgeist yet always creative, always well structured, and nearly always interesting.

So much is evident from the very first work on this disc, the Fantasia (1989–99). The 10-year gap represents not the gestation period, but rather a revision meant “to obscure the tune, putting in lots of wrong notes and kind of stomping on and smudging everything.” Well done, Fred! It certainly is obscure. In fact, to my ears it resembled some of those multiple-key works in which the left hand and the right are nearly always in two different tonalities.

The Six Novelettes for the Left Hand were composed for pianist Satterlee in 2005. Rzewski explains that he was suffering pain in his right hand at the time, so he “decided not to use it for a week or so.” The result, he says, was that he discovered that his left hand was capable of maneuvers that he was only “dimly” aware of previously, so he stuck with it for the duration of this composition, titled Second Hand, or Alone at Last. This is most definitely music of exploration and experimentation, a sort of rambling or ruminating at the keyboard. They are not Rzewski’s strongest pieces, then, but are fascinating for what he was able to convey with just five fingers, including a sort of modified boogie beat that morphs into an ostinato.

If the Novelettes are not among Rzewski’s most creative works, the De Profundis of 1992 certainly is. Here, a letter by Oscar Wilde is recited aloud by the pianist to one rhythm while he plays, hums, grunts, whistles, and hits the body of the piano with both his hand and a Harpo Marx-type horn in different rhythms. If this sounds rather difficult (let alone bizarre) on the face of it, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the piece performed. At one point, when the narrator-pianist describes Wilde’s failed relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, things really get dicey as Satterlee is instructed to “shut the keyboard lid and drum and strike the body of the piano, all while whispering despairing words about the poisoned friendship.” The bulk of Wilde’s letter, written from prison where he was serving a two-year term for his homosexual offenses, deals with both his psychological torment and “broader artistic and spiritual themes.” A mixed message, then, involving conflicted and at times opposing emotions, and the music reflects this as well. I do not wish to imply that the entire piece is nothing but effect, however; there is much of substance here, too; but it is certainly one of Rzewski’s stranger compositions.

An interesting disc, then, well played by Satterlee who specializes in modern music and has been a devotee of Rzewski’s music since he met the composer while a student at Yale.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Fantasia for Piano by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Robert Satterlee (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Second Hand, or Alone at Last by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Robert Satterlee (Piano)
Written: 2005 
De profundis by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Robert Satterlee (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991; USA 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Unusual contemporary work from Frederic Rzewski June 30, 2014 By Warren Harris See All My Reviews "This disc consists of 3 different works by Frederic Rzewski – Fantasia, Second Hand (Six Novelettes for piano, left hand), and De Profundis (for Speaking Pianist). The first piece (Fantasia) is rather rhythmic, but is most definitely contemporary – almost Charles Ives like -- and does not leave the listener walking away with a particular hummable tune. The short liner notes indicate that the composer revised the piece ten years after its inception and “…changed the music to obscure the tune, putting in lots of wrong notes and kind of stomping on and smudging everything.” Enough said there. Much more satisfying are the Six Novelettes for piano left hand, which are essentially studies for the left hand alone. These are interesting exercises that push the pianist through melodic and rhythmic digital gymnastics, but are pleasing nonetheless. As for the last piece (De Profundis for Speaking Pianist), has an interesting premise – that being to bring forth eight sections of text by Oscar Wilde (written while Wilde was imprisoned for homosexual offences) and accompany them all manner of painful chords and percussive sounds. Unfortunately for me, the work itself descended into the realm of performance art and I found myself sufficiently distracted by the vocal and non-vocal histrionics such that I looked forward to the end of the work. The pianist, Robert Satterlee, chose difficult material to perform and record, which is laudable. And if this sort of contemporary sound is what you gravitate toward, then you might find something of value here. But if you are the cadre of listeners that finds themselves wondering when the noise is going to stop, then I would avoid this particular recording." Report Abuse
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