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David Rakowski: Etudes, Vol 3 / Amy Briggs


Release Date: 10/13/2009 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9310   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



RAKOWSKI Etudes, Vol. 3 Amy Briggs (pn) BRIDGE 9310 (78:30)


David Rakowski is closing in on Etude No. 100, though this collection is breathlessly trying to keep up, 20 or so behind. It fills in the gaps in Vol. 5 (each has 10 etudes) from earlier Bridge releases, and then includes Vols. 6 and 7 in their entirety.


Rakowski (born sometime in the 1950s, his Web site is mum) is a self-proclaimed odd duck, though an enormously successful one. I’ve Read more encountered him glancingly, and enjoyed his company. He’s always “on,” and I think I’ve never met anyone with a greater zest for the bad pun (following in Milton Babbitt’s footsteps here). Looking at the titles of many of the etudes on this disc, one sees this habit persists: “Eight Misbehavin’,” “Ménage à droit,” “ A Third in the Hand,” etc.


Now it could be easy to dismiss all this as dorky composer humor, except for the fact that it is quite brilliant. Rakowski, who admits he’s not much of a pianist, has definitely written one of the more substantial bodies of recent work for the instrument. The pieces are imaginative, idiomatic, virtuosic. The composer’s aesthetic is tied to hard-edged modernism, and Charles Wuorinen’s jangly sound seems a progenitor. But Rakowski also has an Ivesian side, in that he can’t help but blend that Uptown perspective with all the “dirty” rock/blues/funk experiences he had in his youth. Thus “Moody’s Blues” (you see the puns just keep coming; author Rick Moody is a friend of the composer, and a co-conspirator in a number of the titles) is a pounding number that suggests what Jerry Lee Lewis might sound like if he’d had Rakowski’s (Ivy league) education. Rakowski sets a lot of technical challenges for himself in these pieces: a left-hand etude (No. 67, “Ain’t Got No Right”); a pseudo-minimalist essay (No. 66, “Less Is”); a piece based entirely on a pedal tone (No. 63, “Killer B’s). All these the composer meets with aplomb. Some really knock me out, such as No. 53, “Cell Division,” which is a sparkling high register rain of arpeggios, delicate in a way many of the set’s pieces are not; and No. 62, “Name that Turn,” an extravagant imitative contrapuntal structure.


Rakowski has said he has a few rules for these works: (1) they have to be through composed; (2) they have a six-day work limit; and (3) they are never revised. As a result, what we’re hearing is a type of diary of his interests, obsessions, and discoveries. Or they can be seen as a stream of “fixed improvisations.” Paradoxical as that sounds, I think it’s in fact a precise description. These are spontaneous “fancies” of the composer, written in white heat, but informed by his innate sense of rigorous form and invention.


Which also suggests a possible problem for the listener. We have 24 etudes here. When taken individually or in small groups (the way they usually are on any concert program), they’re exhilarating. When listened to as a whole, Rakowski’s manic energy can become taxing. My feeling is that this collection is probably of most interest to and use for pianists (who want to learn possible new repertoire), and for composers (who want to steal a thing or two). I, for one, found it very engaging to read Hayes Biggs’s detailed descriptive notes, listening for how the conceit of each piece was technically realized. For other listeners, the disc is well worth your time and attention, but you may want to use it as an introit or an encore (i.e. in small doses) to a larger work.


Amy Briggs has technique to spare and to burn—which is precisely what she does through the whole program. She’s a fabulous pianist, and admirably attuned to Rakowski’s vision. At times, she can be a little too unremittingly steely for my taste, but I frankly think this is what the composer wants, and she’s following his lead. Sound, as usual for Bridge, is superb.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1.
Étude No. 70 "Stutter Stab" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 55 Secs. 
2.
Étude No. 51 "Zipper Tango" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 23 Secs. 
3.
Étude No. 54 "Pedal to the Metal" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 40 Secs. 
4.
Étude No. 53 "Cell Division" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 42 Secs. 
5.
Étude No. 52 "Moody's Blues" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 3 Secs. 
6.
Étude No. 57 Chord Shark" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 43 Secs. 
7.
Étude No. 56 "Crazy Eights" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 25 Secs. 
8.
Étude No. 60 "Accents of Malice" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 8 Secs. 
9.
Étude No. 58 "Wound Tight" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 39 Secs. 
10.
Étude No. 55 "Eight Misbehavin'" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 37 Secs. 
11.
Étude No. 59 "Zeccatella" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 18 Secs. 
12.
Étude No. 42 "Madam I'm Adam" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 4 Minutes 21 Secs. 
13.
Étude No. 44 "Triaddled" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 44 Secs. 
14.
Étude No. 45 "Pink Tab" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 37 Secs. 
15.
Étude No. 49 "Saltimmano" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 4 Minutes 4 Secs. 
16.
Étude No. 61 "Ménage à Droit" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 58 Secs. 
17.
Étude No. 62 "Name That Turn" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 45 Secs. 
18.
Étude No. 64 "A Third in the Hand" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 14 Secs. 
19.
Étude No. 67 "Ain't Got No Right" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 52 Secs. 
20.
Étude No. 65 "Rick's Mood" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 0 Secs. 
21.
Étude No. 66 "Less Is" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 44 Secs. 
22.
Étude No. 63 "Killer B's" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 23 Secs. 
23.
Étude No. 69 "Palm de Terre" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 4 Minutes 14 Secs. 
24.
Étude No. 68 "Absofunkinlutely" by David Rakowski
Performer:  Amy Briggs (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 50 Secs. 

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