- Etude Fantasy, for piano - John Corigliano - Ursula Oppens - Adam Fleishman
- Kaleidoscope, for 2 pianos - John Corigliano - Jerome Lowenthal - Ursula Oppens - Adam Fleishman
- Fantasia on an Ostinato, for piano - John Corigliano - Ursula Oppens - Adam Fleishman
- Chiarascuro, for 2 pianos - John Corigliano - Jerome Lowenthal - Ursula Oppens - Adam Fleishman
Winging It: Piano Music of John Coriglianoby Ursula Oppens
While the title of the CD might be Winging It, Ursula Oppens has clearly spent much time honing her craft as a brilliant performer of new music: here, the music of John Corigliano. This combination is an excellent match, and it makes for an exciting album. The crashing beginning of the title track is incredibly dynamic, and Oppens shows her fire, yet it gives way to quiet shortly after. Even during the melancholy, reflective second movement, Oppens is energized and plays brightly (with a bright recording quality to complement her playing). The final movement is a jazz-like chase between hands, with some interesting chords for good measure. Brief but absolutely novel, "Chiarascuro for two pianos" (with Jerome Lowenthal) demonstrates Corigliano's innovative nature as a composer. It is fascinating to hear the quarter-tuned piano echo the regular one, be it in the distorted images in "Light" or in "Shadows." It is a very impressionistic piece; that is, one gets impressions of moments that create moods, rather than a linear narrative throughout the work. Most surprising is a choral passage in the piece that establishes a vague sense of tonality for a moment. The quasi-minimalist "Fantasia" is more than mere repetition, for Oppens carefully phrases the repetitive patterns with care and tenderness. While the listener might be tempted to think Corigliano is all art music and novelty, he or she is greeted with a hint of ragtime here and there in the "Kaleidoscope for two pianos." The album concludes with the moody "Etude Fantasy," which explores a variety of emotions. Any skeptics of new music should give this album a try, for Corigliano has written fairly accessible work. Both Oppens and Corigliano are extremely skilled at shifting gears, and rapidly, and this makes the album quite an energizing experience for the listener. ~ V. Vasan
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Performance CreditsUrsula Oppens Primary Artist
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John Corigliano has been one of America's greatest and best known composers for many years now. Most people are familiar with his large scale works, such as the "Symphony #1", the "Clarinet Concerto", "The Ghosts of Versailles" or maybe his few, but emblematic, film scores, such as "The Red Violin" We do not get to hear his smaller works, especially his output for solo or duo pianos, as often. Here is a wonderful collection that illustrates both his complete mastery as a composer in all genres as well as performances that are wonderful and convincing. Ursula Oppens is an amazing performer with a long list of recordings and repertoire in her accomplishments, especially illustrating her understanding of contemporary music. She is joined on this recording by the equally accomplished Jerome Lowenthal in the two piano works, "Chiaroscuro" and "Kaleidoscope". Every piece on this disc contains the qualities that I love in Corigliano's music. It is intense, dramatic, almost frightening in places; lyrical and placidly beautiful in others. For me, the two most captivating pieces on the program are the first two. "Winging It" is essentially a three movement work based on three improvisations created, then notated with the help of technology and colleague Mark Baechle. The improvisations, created over a six month period, were realized and premiered as "Winging It" at their NY premiere in 2009, with Ms. Oppens. They are tremendous to listen to and outrageously difficult to play. The other standout on this disc is "Chiaroscuro" for two pianos tuned a quarter tone apart. The title, a referenced to the use of shadow and light (from the Italian) in visual art serves as a perfect metaphor for the eery, unsettling effect that the quarter tone tunings have on melody and harmony. Chords and tonal centers get obscured, confounded. Melodies get "unsettled" The effect of the piece is made more haunting through the quoting of the standard hymn "Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow" Corigliano has often made use of religious, familiar melody in strange, nightmarish settings (See "Altered States") The other works on this marvelous album re well worth hearing, too. "Fantasia on an Ostinato" also makes some amazing use of pyrotechnics and quotations from Beethoven in a macabre way. "Kaleidoscope" shows off both the technical as well as lyrical capacity of Jerome Lowenthal along with Ursula Oppens and the "Etude Fantasy" is an impressive showpiece including an opening movement for left hand only that provides moments of excitement and reflection. I strongly recommend this disc to anyone who admires John Corigliano and needs to hear another side of this amazing composer and also to anyone who wants to hear an gifted American virtuoso pianist who cleary understands modern music and can bring out the widest range of emotions in anything!
For all his contributions to the opera, orchestral, chamber and vocal literature, Corigliano's catalogue of piano music remains rather slim. In fact, the complete piano works to date are contained on this new Cedille CD. The pieces here date from 1959 through 2008 and they show both the consistency of imagination and the development of compositional voice. Winging It is the most recent, comprising a set of three short improvisations. They are, by turns, lyrical, propulsive and craggy. The most interesting set on the disc is Chiaroscuro for two pianos, one of which is tuned a quarter tone lower than the other. While the quarter tone is not uncommon in string writing, it is rare for the piano, and in this case produces some wonderful and fascinating sound; a shadow or aura around the tone making it vibrate in compelling and unexpected ways. The Fantasia on an Ostinato from 1985 creates an opportunity for the performer to shape the piece by selecting from a set of interlocking, repeating patterns. The theme from the second movement of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony forms the basis of much of the piece. Ursela Oppens, justly famous for her advocacy of contemporary music, most notably that of Elliott Carter turns in clean committed performances and is ably partnered in the two-piano works by Jerome Lowenthal. Different and recommended.