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Posted June 27, 2011
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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 24, 2011
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.