PAÚS: Piano al origen. Piano en Arlés. Estudio para uracilo, un príncipe genómico. Piano astrolabio / Eduardo Fernández, pn / Naxos 8.579019
The music of Ramón Paús (1956 – ) is apparently pretty well known, particularly through his film scores, but until recently I had not heard of him. His concert music, particularly that written for the piano—one of his own two instruments (the other being the guitar)—combines elements of jazz. My reaction to an earlier CD of Paús’ music, played by Maria Orejana on Sony Classical, was mixed: I liked some of the music but found too much of it “draggy” and monotonous. I originally posted a review of Orejana’s CD on my blog, but took it down because of my dissatisfaction.
Listening to the present CD, I found that some of my dissatisfaction stemmed from Orejana and not necessarily from Paús. Eduardo Fernández, whose superb recording of Albéniz’ Ibéria I included in my Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide and whose performances of the Scriabin Preludes I gave a good review to on this blog, plays this music with a far greater sense of cohesion and, better yet, a sense of phrasing that encompasses a good feeling for jazz swing. This is not to say that Paús’ music swings the way Kapustin’s does: his entire aesthetic is the exact opposite. Whereas Kapustin, using the great Oscar Peterson as a model, fills his scores with dazzling runs and complex polyrhythms, Paús takes a much more leisurely path. His music, as I noted when listening to Orejana’s recordings, is much closer aesthetically to that of such pianists as Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett. He uses space as a way of elongating phrase lengths and providing respites for the ear. The liner notes to this disc, written by José Luis Garcia del Busto, make the following observations about Paús’ relaxed, almost meditative style:
* A move away from conventional forms of construction and towards the juxtaposition of ideas set out in short sections and not always subject to development; Paús nearly always rejects working within pre-existing formal patterns, in favour of a free-flowing musical discourse whose end point is, generally, not predetermined;
* evocations of jazz;
* an abundance of expressive inications which are poetic and, at times, a little enigmatic in nature; these turn his scores into a kind of emotional script;
* passages based on an alternation of calm motifs, made up of notes of long duration, and others that are agitated in configuration, rhythmic and angular, made up of short, syncopated, accented notes;
* the frequent sense of a notably ‘harmonic’ character to the musical flow (despite there being no lack of melodic motifs, whose cantabile nature is entirely unconventional), which is obtained through writing that often emphasizes sequences of very dense, compact vertical conglomerates – including many made up of six or even eight notes – with plenty of accidentals, making chords that freely disregard the rules of functional harmony.
Although I agree with everything del Busto says here, I think you will note that it is just a more complex way of saying what I said above. Interestingly for an album issued in Naxos’ “Spanish Classics” series, the one thing this music does NOT sound like is Spanish—certainly not in the way that other Spanish and Mexican composers do. It sounds worldly in a universal sense, with the interpretation being in many respects more important than a mere “reading” of the scores. It also takes a pianist of Fernández’ vision and sensitivities to pull these disparate elements together.
And this he does, in each of the four long pieces on this album. Even when reviewing the Orejana recordings, I noted that the music sounded to me as if it were improvised into being at the keyboard, similar to Charles Mingus’ famous piano album. It turns out I was right: del Busto says as much in the next paragraph. Of course, there is a danger in this approach, whether your name is Paús, Mingus, or anyone else who attempts such a thing, in that the wanderings of your mind in the throes of creation may not always produce a fully coherent piece of music. I also firmly believe that jazz musicians, not only Mingus but also Bill Evans, Lennie Tristano, Jaki Byard and Jack Reilly, have a distinct advantage over classical or classical-jazz composers because their minds are trained to a razor sharpness in just that discipline, the spontaneous creation of music that, if nothing else, needs to sound coherent and all of a piece, no matter how many side routes they take. In recent years, the remarkable creations of Thelonious Monk have also begun to take their place as major music that is (finally) appreciated by classical pianists who, for decades, shrugged Monk off because of his own unorthodox playing style.
I will go so far as to say that Fernández’ success in this music is very similar to the way he played the Scriabin Preludes, slow pieces based on Chopin’s aesthetic that require intense concentration in order to pull them together. Indeed, listening to a full album of Paús’ music is much akin to listening to a full program of Scriabin Preludes in that the general framework of each piece is the same, no matter how varied individual moments within each are. Listening to Fernández play the faster, jazzier passages within these works would make you think he was a professional jazz pianist, so acute is his sense of rhythm and so fine is his “binding” of phrases. Play any of these pieces, but particularly the third (Estudio para uracilo, un príncipe genómico) for one of your jazz-loving friends without identifying the pianist, and I seriously doubt that they would suspect that they are listening to an outstanding classical artist. That’s how good his sense of jazz “time” is.
Further in the liner notes the back story of each piece is given: Piano al origen is “dedicated to ‘a veiled woman,’ a reference to the composer’s mother,” Piano en Arlés based on the portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams, Estudio para uracilo relating to uracil, one of the components of RNA, and Piano astrolabio dedicated “to Javier Briongos, friend and publisher,” but whatever the inspirations the music remains abstract enough to not give the listener any clues as to these allusions. Paús writes Paús music, plain and simple, and there is much more here in the slow melodic and harmonic movement (except for the jazz passages) that relate to Erik Satie than he may want to admit.
In short, this is undoubtedly the best introduction to this composer. I can only hope that other listeners may have the patience and the interest to pick up on what he is doing here and try to understand how unique he is.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
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