Lynn Raley Enters the Maelstrom

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MAËLSTROM / THOMAS: 6 Études for Piano. Eurythmy Études. PETERSON: 4 Preludes for Piano. WUORINEN: The Haroun Piano Book. MOE: Dance of the Honey Monkey / Lynn Raley, pn / Nimbus Alliance N6360

This fascinating recital by pianist Lynn Raley features four composers, all pianists themselves, in modern music typical of their individual aesthetics. Augusta Read Thomas, whose recent Nimbus CD of original music I gave a good review to, is up first with her 6 Études for Piano, each dedicated to a different 20th century composer: Luciano Berio, Béla Bartók, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Morton Feldman and David Rakowski (the latter being the only name I did not recognize). As usual, Thomas uses a strong contrapuntal style in most of these, particularly in the second étude dedicated to Bartók, which Raley actually kind of swings in a quasi-jazz manner. Interestingly, the Messiaen étude is a bit less dense than the French composer’s own piano music, despite channeling his unusual harmonies. Ironically, I liked Thomas’ homage to Boulez, “On Twilight,” much more than I’ve ever liked any of Boulez’ own compositions: it’s lively in its contrapuntal way, and ironically sounds more like Messiaen that Boulez to my ears (at least, the way Raley plays it). The Feldman tribute piece, “Rain at Funeral,” is somewhat minimalist in feel but with more notes and structure than the average work in that genre, while the Rakowski piece is busier if no less atonal. Her Eurythmy Études start with “Motion Detector,” another slow and moody work, while the second, “Still Life,” is anything but still, being a lively contrapuntal affair.

Wayne Peterson, a former jazz pianist, wrote the 4 Preludes for Piano. The first of these has the same title as the album, “Maelstrom,” and although it is not as maelstrom-like as Lennie Tristano’s Entering the Maelstrom, it is nonetheless a complex, atonal work, albeit one with no jazz influence or content. “Fading Embers” is a moody piece, not too dissimilar to some of the Thomas pieces in style, while “Valse Subliminale,” oddly enough, has more jazz influence than the first two pieces. The last prelude, “Caccia,” sounded the least interesting to me, being simply a succession of atonal flourishes and chords. There is some construction here, but it’s the kind of music I don’t like because it sounds too disorganized to my ears. Peterson does, however, briefly introduce a walking bass line into the music.

These are followed by Charles Wuorinen’s Haroun Piano Book. Interestingly enough, these pieces, too, are in a similar compositional style to Thomas’. They are atonal and contrapuntal, yet have a good underlying sense of structure. And the fifth piece, “Rashid,” sounds even more jazz-like than most of Peterson’s preludes (although this might be due to Raley’s interpretation). The Finale also sounds somewhat jazzy due to the constant syncopation in moto perpetuo.

This recital concludes with Eric Moe’s Dance of the Honey Monkey, a piece that sounds much more like jazz than any of the preceding works. It really swings, particularly the way Raley plays it, its catchy quasi-Latin beat propelling the fascinating musical line that stems from the rhythm. Moe even sets up a “running” bass line, against which the right hand plays little figures in counterpoint against it, which adds to the interest. This is clearly a superb piece, and a wonderful finale to this splendid album.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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