Pianist Nadia Shpachenko commissioned four composers to write music for her. But they weren’t just any four composers, and it wasn’t just for any reason. To usher in the new era (according to the Mayan calendar), Shpachenko asked four close friends to write works that would represent a new look at piano literature.
Although the resulting works aren’t quite that revolutionary (at least to my ears), they still are well-crafted works that deserve a listen. In a way, they bridge the gap between the extreme avant-garde and the post-modern traditional. Although stylistically different, they all were written for a friend — Shpachenko — and collectively present a cohesive program.
Tom Flaherty’s Airdancing for toy piano, piano, and electronics, uses the toy piano both as a tinny melodic instrument and as a metallic non-tonal percussion instrument. The exotic timbres reminded me strongly of Harry Partch’s music.
Flaherty’s second work, Part Suite-a, uses thick tone clusters throughout, but with more major seconds than minor second groupings, softening the dissonance in an appealing way.
The Picture Etudes of Adam Schoenberg is a suite of four short vignettes that seemed to have echoes of Martinu in some sections. And the addition of the bass drum and gong work (played by the pianist) are both understated and quite effective in their use. His work Bounce concludes the recital, a work for two pianos that sounds like it was a lot of fun to play (it certainly was to listen to).
Cretic Variations by James Matheson is the longest work on the disc (14 minutes), and is a jazzy, percussive and thoroughly modern delight.
Nadia Shpachenko collaborated in the creation of these works, giving her an emotional investment and empathy with them. She conveys that empathy with sure, insightful delivery.
Woman at the New Piano: American Music of 2013
Nadia Shpachenko, piano; Geneive Feiwen Lee, toy piano and electronics
Tom Flaherty: Airdancing for toy piano, piano, and electronics, Part Suit-a; James Matheson: Cretic Variations: Adam Schoenberg: Picture Etudes, Bounce for two pianos; Peter Yates: Finger Songs
Reference Recordings FR-711