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Rzewski: Four Pieces; Hard Cuts; The Housewife's Lament

Rzewski / Raat / Marinissen
Release Date: 08/12/2014 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559759   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Ralph van RaatArnold Marinissen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lunapark
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Following up his Naxos recording of Frederic Rzewski’s monumental 1975 variation set The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, Ralph van Raat turns to the composer’s Four Pieces (1977), The Housewife’s Lament (1980), and Hard Cuts, a recent work for piano solo and ensemble. Rzewski conceived his Four Pieces as a kind of sonata whose four movements are thematically integrated, yet also can be performed separately.

While many pianists have played and recorded Piano Piece No. 4, its thematic structure makes more sense in context. The lyrical Andes folk song that opens Piece No. 1 and appears midway through No. 3 is transformed within No. 4’s whirling, dramatic toccata-like form. Similarly, No. 1’s chains of tremolos rising from
Read more the bottom of the keyboard relate to No. 4’s repeated chords that start in the highest register and gradually shift downward, as well as to their opposite counterpart at the end of the piece. Astute listeners also will notice how rapid arpeggiated figurations and passages in thirds, sixths, and tenths share a common harmonic language to those in The People United.

Raat’s assured sense of style and command of Rzewski’s formidable virtuosic material are never in question. He brings both characterful contrast and continuity to No. 1’s rhapsodic tempo changes and to No. 3’s quick-changing episodes. The cross-rhythmic accents of No. 2’s unison lines are indeed as light and bouncy as the composer requests, although Emanuele Arciuli’s slightly slower interpretation on the Stradivarius label offers more variety of articulation and wider dynamic contrasts.

While Raat captures No. 4’s driving momentum as well as other pianists, he falls into the frequent trap of speeding up the pulse during the long pedaled section just before the folk tune appears. He also plays the repetitions and permutations of staccato material (page 34, systems 3 and 4 in the printed score from Zen-On Piano Library) legato, which misses the point of Rzewski’s percussive intention. Again, I prefer Arciuli’s slower, steadier, and more fastidiously detailed traversal.

The title Hard Cuts refers both to the music’s sharp, sometimes discontinuous contrasts and mood shifts and to the art world’s drastic budget reductions. It is scored for piano solo and an ensemble of unspecified instruments. Not surprisingly, the piano dominates, although individual instrumental lines provide stimulating contrapuntal companionship, as in the first movement’s lovely phrases assigned here to the clarinet. The third movement, “Like bees”, features short repeating patterns that might be described as “unsettled ostinatos”, whose quasi-minimalist asymmetry is akin to certain Ligeti etudes.

Lastly, The Housewife’s Lament is a set of variations on a 19th-century song of the same name, originally written for harpsichord but more often performed on piano. Its quaint theme immediately gives way to gnarly clusters, tremolos, and trills. A slave song follows in “call and response” fashion between registers, leading into a repeated high E-natural that expands into a fuller-bodied, harmonically gorgeous passage. After the theme’s impassioned return, a sudden, sustained B-natural leads into a blues/rock-inspired bass line punctuated by detached right-hand chords. These develop into low-lying clusters that quickly go crazy in the form of an improvised yet specifically directed cadenza. A hint of the theme supported by a fragile trill concludes one of Rzewski’s most refreshing and original scores. Raat is at his best here; he judges the unpredictable style shifts and emotional swings to perfection and yields little to Rzewski’s own recording included in the 2002 Nonesuch Rzewski Plays Rzewski boxed set.

Regarding the Four Pieces, however, try to find Arciuli’s interpretation, or better still, Rzewski’s 1980 Vanguard recording. The latter was an early digital production, released on high quality LP and chrome cassette editions aimed for the audiophile market. It briefly appeared in the Netherlands on a long-out-of-print 1994 CD release, and ought to be reissued.

-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Pieces (4) for Piano by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Ralph van Raat (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1977; USA 
Venue:  Sweelinckzaal, Amsterdam, The Netherland 
Length: 32 Minutes 16 Secs. 
2.
Hard Cuts, for percussion, piano & chamber ensemble by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Ralph van Raat (Piano), Arnold Marinissen (Percussion)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lunapark
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2011 
Date of Recording: 02/2013 
Venue:  Vredenburg Leeuwenberghkerk, Utrecht, th 
Length: 6 Minutes 34 Secs. 
3.
The Housewife's Lament, variations on a theme, for harpsichord by Frederic Rzewski
Performer:  Ralph van Raat (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1980 
Venue:  Sweelinckzaal, Amsterdam, The Netherland 
Length: 9 Minutes 47 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Van Raat Excels with Rzewski August 29, 2014 By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews "Pianist/composer Frederic Rzewski is best known for The People United Will Never Be Defeated!. Echoes of that massive set of piano variations can be heard in this program of shorter works by Rzweski. The Housewife's Lament, like The People..., is a set of variations on a pre-existing tune. Although the scope of the variations is much smaller than The People... they're no less though. Rzewski breaks the simple tune into its component parts and uses them in new and surprising ways, showing the full potential of the source material. The Four Pieces of 1977, to my ears, are almost a catalog of Rzewski's style. There syncopated rhythms, hints of jazz, folk-derived melodies, and Rzewski's unique voicing of chords, all coming together in these four studies. If one needed an introduction to Rzewski, the Four Pieces would be a good place to start. Pianist Ralph van Raat has an exceptional rapport with this music, and his performances of them hold up well in comparison to Rzewski's own. Hard Cuts was composed for Ralph van Raat and Lunapark, who perform the work on this album. In this case, "hard" doesn't necessarily mean "difficult" -- but it does mean sudden. The work is a heady melange of melodic and harmonic elements that rapidly jump from one to the other. It's an exciting work, made even more so by the performances of van Raat and Lunapark. If you only know Rzewski through The People... this recording will add to your understanding and appreciation of his unique compositional voice. If you haven't yet heard The People... this recording can help prepare you to better appreciate Rzweski's masterwork. Either way, I highly recommend this release." Report Abuse
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