- Before Sleep and Dreams, for piano - Aaron Jay Kernis - Andrew Russo
- Superstar Etude No. 1, for piano - Aaron Jay Kernis - Andrew Russo
- Air, version for cello & orchestra (created for Truls Mørk) - Aaron Jay Kernis - Andrew Russo - Felix Fan
- 100 Greatest Dance Hits for guitar & string quartet - Aaron Jay Kernis - David Tanenbaum - Kashii String Quartet
- Meditation (In Memory of John Lennon), for cello & piano - Aaron Jay Kernis - Andrew Russo - Felix Fan
The popularity of and resistance to Aaron Jay Kernis are each easy to understand. Kernis offers a dual kind of familiarity that will either delight audience members or set them on edge, according to their preferences and preconceptions. It is not just the use of popular music that has propelled Kernis to a prominent place on American concert programs and now, apparently those across the pond. Equally important is the way he deploys those forms in such a way as to fit into larger Classical outlines. Individual movements often have a peppy opening theme followed by a more lyrical second theme, and a four-movement work like "100 Greatest Dance hits" (1993) corresponds to the large-scale feel of a Classical-era chamber piece. The ambitious opening movement is replaced with a short introduction, but Kernis' "Salsa Pasada" movement makes a reasonable stand-in for a minuet or scherzo, his slow movements are straightforwardly melodic and simple, and his "Dance Party on the Disco Motorboat" finale is resolute and fun. Actually, Kernis detractors would do well to examine his seemingly most populist move more closely: his appropriations of popular style are often very subtle. Hear the "Superstar Etude #1" (track 6), for solo piano, based on the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and even featuring a reasonable imitation of Lewis' shouted "Whoa, baby!" from pianist Andrew Russo. The piece atomizes Lewis' pounding piano in a clever way and never plays it for cheap thrills. In pieces less closely based on pop models he's more obvious and tends toward bald, garish transitions. This British release makes a good basic Kernis purchase. Even if the Kashii String Quartet doesn't quite deliver the overdone quality necessary to bring off Kernis' more sentimental essays like "Air" really successfully, the program as a whole includes some interesting early music that shows us where Kernis was coming from. He started out as a minimalist, and the early "Meditation (in memory of John Lennon)," composed after Lennon's assassination in 1980 when Kernis was still a student, represents a lovely and heartfelt use of that language. It's basically an expansion of "Imagine," a lingering on the melody's basic intervals. After that, where Steve Reich began to use minimalism in serious, philosophical ways, Kernis took the language in a more crowd-pleasing direction. "Before Sleep and Dreams," for piano, is an evocation of the moods of a child about to go to sleep for the night; it's a charming if rather slight set of impressions. The program as a whole is satisfying for those trying to get a feel for Kernis, and it's one that anyone can enjoy.
|Label:||Black Box Classics|