Notes and Editorial Reviews
A lovely disc of attractive and accessible piano music.
The Enchanted Garden
: Preludes, Books 1 and 2
Xiayin Wang (pn)
NAXOS 8.559669 (49: 37)
The two sets of preludes, written some 17 years apart from each other (the first in 1992, the latter in 2009 and for the current pianist) seem upon my first acquaintance with them to be more
individual works that were collected and placed together, rather than being written in a grand scheme, such as the preludes of Chopin. This is not to say that their ordering does not have some sort of sequence to them—indeed they do seem to be in just their alternation of slow and fast tempi. They also share their inspiration from what Richard Danielpour considers the fine line between dreams and reminiscences or memories, even between reality and fantasy. The sound world of each of these preludes occupies a fantasy-like realm, the slower ones all possessing a hazy quality, with the faster variety inhabiting a frenetic, nervous world.
Pianist Xiayin Wang seems to savor those moments of repose, reveling in the sometimes Impressionistic sounds of the music that at times seem to lead nowhere, but always seem to find their way to the end. The first prelude from Book 1, “Promenade,” truly sounds as though one is wandering without direction, perhaps aimlessly, and just observing those things which one might encounter along the way—here described by the composer as a daily practice of walking through Central Park. The uneasy propensity of the fourth prelude from Book 1, “From the Underground,” is one of those fast scherzo-like pieces describing one of the composer’s nightmares. It is full of nervous energy and mysterious accented notes that seem to pop out like the little gremlin-like creatures that inspired the piece. Some of the preludes in Book 2 have dedications to various friends and family members of the composer, while others seem to be dedicated to their subject matter—for example to New Yorkers in “Surrounded by Idiots.” “Persepolis,” dedicated to the composer’s sister, is inspired by a trip to Iran in which Danielpour tries to musically re-create the glory of the place, which is now just ruins. It has a kind of olden quality to it, which does not sound like Mussorgsky’s “Old Castle,” but slightly feels like it in mood. Danielpour, in the prelude titled “Lean Kat Stride,” pays homage to his wife in her “more spontaneous and effusive moments,” also displaying “her quick wit and sense of humor.” It is for the most part a jazzy, slightly stormy and unrelenting piece that seems to never quite give up until its final notes. I can only assume that the composer is an extremely happily married man. The final prelude, “Winter Solstice,” is one of those pieces that is seemingly dedicated to the spirit of community, whose members “remember [their] own potential for love and compassion.” It is a heartfelt piece that brings the entire recital to an optimistic close.
Throughout, Wang acts as an inspired guide taking us on the journey through these sometimes erratic, sometimes quiet, but always inspired and evocative little mood pieces. She has the facility to handle all of the technical impediments of the music and has the rhythmic drive and musical sensibility to make the most of each of these little sound worlds. Program notes are by the composer, and are helpful in that they describe the impetus behind each of these works. The sound is spot-on—clean, yet never overly so, with minimal echo. The quality of the recording at the Naxos price makes for a highly recommended release.
FANFARE: Scott Noriega
A few years ago Richard Danielpour’s music was reasonably well known through recordings. Then his name seemed to disappear, at least from the Europe side of the Atlantic. This release offers some reassurance since it includes a recent work composed two years ago.
In his notes the composer mentions that “this set of preludes (i.e. Book I) was inspired by my dream-life: the juxtaposition of and contrast between my experience of subconscious dreams and conscious reality. In a sense, this work is a ‘garden of the mind’”. Book I consists of five strongly contrasted preludes of which the second,
Mardi Gras is overtly jazzy and the fourth,
From the Underground, an animated nightmarish Scherzo. The other preludes of the set are rather more peaceful although the lengthy concluding
Night is not completely untroubled.
Book II is somewhat longer and consists of seven preludes of highly contrasted character. Unlike Book I the second set refers to memories and personal experiences in the composer’s life. So, the first prelude refers to the well-known site of Persepolis visited by the composer during the year he spent in Iran with his family.
Surrounded by Idiots,
Lean Kat Stride and
There’s a Ghost in my Room! are lively, rhythmic, jazzy pieces while
Elegy was written in memory of his teacher’s companion. The fifth prelude
A Community of
Silence was written for John Corigliano’s seventieth birthday and is again meditative. The seventh prelude
Winter Solstice, the longest of the second set, is more a miniature tone-poem evoking that Celtic Twilight dear to Bax, Moeran and Ireland. A propos
Surrounded by Idiots the composer comments that “New York brings out both the best and the worst in us … but having a sense of humour about it helps.”
Lean Kat Stride is a portrait of the composer’s wife Kathleen “in her more spontaneous and effusive moments” whereas
There’s a Ghost in my
Room! alludes to “a sort of in-house joke” about Danielpour’s apartment in New York being haunted!
Danielpour’s music is certainly not difficult although it is not necessarily easy to play. It is superbly crafted, colourful and straightforward. It never ventures into unexplored territory but is happy to stay in a broad 20
th century tradition. That is what makes it so accessible and attractive.
Xiayin Wang, for whom Book II was written, plays with impeccable technique and musicality throughout and makes the best of the music. This is a really lovely disc that I enjoyed from first to last.
-- Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Preludes, Book 1, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 1. Promenade
Preludes, Book 1, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 2. Mardi Gras
Preludes, Book 1, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 3. Childhood Memory
Preludes, Book 1, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 4. From the Underground
Preludes, Book 1, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 5. Night
Preludes, Book 2, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 1. Persepolis
Preludes, Book 2, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 2. Surrounded by Idiots
Preludes, Book 2, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 3. Elegy
Preludes, Book 2, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 4. Lean Kat Stride
Preludes, Book 2, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 5. A Community of Silence
Preludes, Book 2, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 6. There's a Ghost in My Room!
Preludes, Book 2, "The Enchanted Garden": No. 7. Winter Solstice
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