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Getty: Piano Pieces / Conrad Tao

Getty / Tao
Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Pentatone   Catalog #: 5186505   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 0 Hours 53 Mins. 

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SuperAudio CD:  $19.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GETTY Homework Suite. Ancestor Suite. Three Traditional Pieces. First Adventure. Raise the Colors. Andantino. Scherzo panieroso Conrad Tao (pn) PENTATONE 5186505 (53:12)

Lynn René Bayley gave this disc a warm and detailed welcome when it first appeared last summer ( Fanfare 36:6)—and there’s little for me to do but second her enthusiasm. Read more Getty is unapologetic about the radical conservatism of his idiom: as he provocatively puts it, he hopes to realize “whatever it was that the great Victorian composers were trying to achieve.” His retreat from the contemporary is especially evident in these amiable miniatures, most of which also exist in orchestral versions (see 33:6) and many of which consciously endorse the “sentimentality” of that earlier age. The two waltzes that open the Ancestor Suite, for instance, sound like rediscovered gems from your grandmother’s piano bench.

Still, Getty may be a bit hyperbolic in his statement of allegiance. Yes, the spirit of the 19th century is often evident (the Slavic brooding of the “Seascape” that opens Homework Suite may bring early Scriabin to mind, just as the “Night Horses” that closes it may remind you of the Schumann of Kinderszenen ). But there isn’t anything very Victorian in the chipper neo-Scarlatti Giga from the Homework Suite. And especially in its mercurial spirit, the predominant aesthetic of the Ancestor Suite is closer to that of Prokofiev (the delightful Prokofiev of Music for Children rather than the demonic Prokofiev of Suggestion Diabolique ) than to that of any composer of the 19th century. Actually, that lightness of spirit is surprising, given the origins of the music. Although there’s nothing about it in the surprisingly uninformative notes, Ancestor Suite (in its orchestral guise) was originally intended for a ballet very loosely based on The Fall of the House of Usher . You’d never guess it by listening to this version which, even in its ghostliest moments, never produces the kind of shudder for which Poe’s gothic stories are famous.

The music is generally simple: textural complication is kept in check, and the technical demands are moderate at best. This is not music for children in the way that Kinderszenen is, but most of it is within the reach of advanced amateurs. Still, having a first-class pianist like Conrad Tao doesn’t hurt. Tao has recently been praised on these pages for what Peter Burwasser called his “elegant and even introspective” playing (see 37: 2)—and those qualities make the most of these miniatures. This is music which would fracture under the weight of any exaggeration, but could easily pale if played without nuance—and Tao finds just the right balance. Listen, for instance, to the suppleness of the “Gothic Waltz” ( Ancestor Suite) or the quick reactivity in the whimsical Scherzo.

As usual with PentaTone, the sound is superb, especially on the surround tracks, which offer an acoustic environment that engages you more fully than either of the comparatively flat stereo versions does. However you listen, though, this is an attractive release.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz


As I’ve mentioned in these pages on other occasions, I am generally a fan of the music of Gordon Getty, my unhappy review of his opera Plump Jack conditioned by the fact that it was an abridged performance and conveyed little or nothing of the theatrical atmosphere that the composer put into it. Tonal he is, but uninteresting he is not.

On this occasion, we are presented with a program of solo piano music written over a period of 50 years: The Homework Suite was composed in 1962, the Andantino and Scherzo Pensieroso written in 2012. As the composer put it in the liner notes, his composition teacher, Sol Joseph, once asked him if he “expected to move on to atonalism. I told him I kind of doubted it.” The Homework Suite, as it turns out, is an utterly charming set of very short pieces (four of them either a half-minute or a minute in length, only one—the “Berceuse”—running on for a lengthy two minutes), yet wit and charm imbue these works, as they do nearly all of Getty’s music. The Ancestor Suite is apparently Getty’s homage to his European roots, consisting of waltzes, a schottische, polka-polonaise, gavotte, march, one enigmatic little piece entitled “Madeline” and another called “Ewig Du.” In listening to these works, I couldn’t help reflecting on the similar style of Karim Al-Zand which I had listened to the day before (see my review elsewhere in this issue). A similarly light approach to composing, but what a difference in quality! Every single piece in Getty’s suite sparkles with not only wit but invention; there are, indeed, touches of polytonality or atonality here and there; and the music holds your attention. (And yes, I think that even a child, at least one over the age of six, will be attentive to Getty’s pieces.) In a certain way, this suite is almost like Debussy’s Children’s Corner: The music is light in character but not in quality. It has sparkle, rhythmic drive, and also numerous little surprises within each vignette…particularly the “March-Sarabande-Presto,” which starts out with a conventional (and tonal) march, but then veers towards a strangely modal and atmospheric “sarabande” before winding up with a quirky, bitonal Presto . Also the last two pieces, “Ewig Du” and “Finale,” begin with the exact same little melody, but what stays relaxed and charming in the former quickly develops into a swirling mélange of sound, becomes quiet and mysterious, and then suddenly ends.

The Three Traditional Pieces begin with the Irish-tinged “Fiddler of Ballykeel,” yet once again Getty’s vivid imagination takes him onto side paths in his musical excursion. “Tiefer und Tiefer” (Deeper and deeper) is a slow waltz, while “Ehemals” (Formerly) is a lively piece that Getty once again breaks up into smaller musical fragments and puts together again in his own unique and charming way. First Adventure and Raise the Colors are brief, simple works, much like the component parts of the Homework Suite, but the Andantino is quite fine, with a quirky and unexpected atonal bridge, while the Scherzo Pensieroso wends its quirky way along a path of finely chosen single notes in the upper range of the keyboard, meeting the left hand in the middle before the latter rolls its way into a faster tempo, in which the left joins it for a bit of minor-key fun. Getty’s music often has that effect on me: It raises my good-humor level.

Pianist Conrad Tao, with whom I was unfamiliar, plays these works with a great deal of charm and warmth, and in Gordon Getty’s world charm is half the musical content. The sound quality, as is the case with many SACD discs, is warm and full. On my non-SACD equipment it sounded just a bit plummy, but not so much that it obscured the fine quality of the piano sound. (I question the need for SACD sound in a solo piano recital anyway. What is it you’re listening for? The air around the back of the piano lid?) On musical grounds, this disc is a winner.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

The Fiddler of Ballykeel by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Raise the Colors by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Homework Suite by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Ancestor Suite by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Tiefer und Tiefer by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Ehemals by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
First Adventure by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
Andantino by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)
Scherzo Pensieroso by Gordon Getty
Performer:  Conrad Tao (Piano)

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