The Piano Music of Ramon Lazkano

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LAZKANO: Hitzaurre Bi.1 Petrikhor. Zintzilik.2 Laugarren Bakarrizketa. Bras dessus bras dessous.2,3 Ilargi Uneak / Alfonso Gómez, pno; 2Marta Zabaleta, 3Ramon Lazkano, pno; 1Bilbao Symphony Orch.; 1Ernest Martinez Izquierdo, cond / Kairos 0015041KAI

Ramon Lazkano, born 1968 in San Sebastian/Donostia, the principal city of the Basque region of Spain, is not a Spanish composer in the traditional sense. One will listen in vain for “Spanish tunes” as in the music of Granados, de Falla and others. As a disciple of György Ligeti, Lazkano is out there on his own personal soundcloud, so to speak, and thus produces music that is challenging and non-traditional.

In the liner notes, pianist Alfonso Gómez explains that the reason he has put so much time and energy into Lazkano’s music, playing his entire oeuvre for the keyboard and proselytizing for it, is his fascination with it. “His music, his language, his development as a composer, his fabulous instrumental craft and, of course, his nature, all fasci­nates me,” he writes.

Like Ligeti, Lazcano writes in a dense polyrhythmic and atonal style, but he also (and this is crucial) makes musical sense. His music’s density does not, in the case of so many modern composers who have been presented to me for review, cover a lack of knowledge of how to write pieces that develop and have structure. Like Ligeti himself, but also like Stravinsky during his 12-tone period, Lazkano knows what he is doing, and the casual listener may be amazed to hear certain things in his music that did not always exist in the music of Ligeti, which are moments of quietude and repose. In this sense he is, to my ears, unique among composers of this school.

In the opening work, written for piano and orchestra, he also reveals his own style of orchestration. Like so many modern composers, he favors brilliant sonorities, emphasizing the high winds and brass, yet unlike many others he knows how to use them delicately rather than like a pile driver. The orchestra complements the piano part; it does not overwhelm it or try to interfere with the ongoing musical development. This marks him as very different from the school of what I call “cheap effect” composers, the first of which was undoubtedly Edgard Varèse. Lazkano’s goal is not simply to startle the listener, but to reach him or her with music that comes from both the mind and the heart. In the second half of Hitzaurre Bi, Lazkano eventually uses a repeated, strong rhythm in the second half, unusual for him, which drives the music to its conclusion.

The remaining pieces on this album are all solo piano except for two which use an extra pianist (or two). The music here is even sparser in expression than Hitzaurre Bi. In Petrikhor, a few repeated little riffs make up most of the opening chorus, after which he adds a few little embellishments as the music develops, breaking up the rhythm with syncopated figures. Nothing in his music is predictable, yet when you hear it, it all makes sense. At about the 5:24 mark, the music suddenly becomes even sparer, now consisting only of a few notes and chords, telling a story as if by intuition and suggestion rather than a full narrative, and later still the music is reduced to just a series of slow, repeated, single A-flats in the middle of the keyboard, occasionally interspersed with other solitary surrounding notes. Thus does this particularly musical journey stumble along.

The very brief (1:40) Zintzilik for piano four hands also starts sparsely, but quickly grows louder and busier as Lazkano explores his sparse theme before falling back to quietude for the finish. In Laugarren Bakarrizketa, he alternates his sparse theme—including moments where the pianist thumps the body of his instrument—with sparkling, Ligeti-like sprinkles of notes, like a small star shower in the dark night.

In the multi-movement Ilargi Uneak, Lazkano shifts the mood again towards busy, Ligeti-like lines in the first section, titled “Izar,” falling back to his sparse style in the second piece, “Ekhi,” he emphasizes staccato chords, while in the third, “Urtzi,” it is a running bass line that sets up a sort of moto perpetuo to begin with before slowing down and returning to his minimal style of sparse notes and chords.

This is surely one of the most unusual CDs of the year. I didn’t like each piece on this disc equally, but I certainly found all of it interesting and thought-provoking, and Gómez is clearly a fine pianist committed to the composer’s aesthetic.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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