Del Tredici: Gotham Glory has Glorious Counterpoint

David Del Tredici has an affinity for counterpoint — and the talent to compose it, too. That impression really comes through in this new collection from Naxos. The release is mostly made up of what Del Tredici terms “Ballades,” although they’re actually paired toccatas and fugues.

The Aeolean Ballade is the most tonal of the bunch, using primarily the white keys on the piano. The Ballade in Lavender and the Ballade in Yellow are more adventurous, with pianistically challenging free sections (the toccata parts) moving to highly structured fugues of breathtaking complexity.

The S/M Ballade mixes tonal and atonal elements in an interesting fashion. The title suggests something edgy, and the music delivers. This is a deliciously dark thrill ride that give the pianist plenty to work with (and the listener plenty to absorb).

Pianist Marc Peloquin is more than up to the challenge of these works. No matter how difficult the material, he never seems to break a sweat. And his interpretation — especially in the fugal sections — keeps the music from sounding dry and academic. In Peloquin’s hands, complex counterpoint seems to just grow naturally out of what comes before, like a flower blooming.

The title track, Gotham Glory, is Del Tredici’s love letter to his native New York City. The work has some Gershwin-like jazz inflections, that provide a NYC flavor to the music, but the composition is Del Tredici’s own. The first movement serves as a prelude, and the second is a fugue,and the third a perpetual canon, (which makes the work fit in with the rest of the program).

The fourth movement “Wollman Rink” is subtitled a “Grand Fantasy on the Skaters’ Waltz” and is as long as the preceding three movements combined. It harkens back to the grand fantasies of the late romantic composers (with distinctively modern harmonies, however), and is a real showpiece for the pianist. And Peloquin doesn’t disappoint.

An excellent recording of music by a modern American master. I look forward to volume 2.

David Del Tredici: Gotham Glory – Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1
Marc Peloquin, piano

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