Edith Ruiz Plays Contemporary Piano Music

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ORTIZ: Su Muy Key. Estudios entre preludios. Patios serenos CHAPELA: Duelo en vela. HALKA: Miniatures. CORTEZ-ALVAREZ: Danza del parque de las acacias. ZÚÑIGA: Velocidad de reacción / Edith Ruiz, pno / Urtext JBCC295

Mexican pianist Edith Ruiz plays here music by five contemporary composers, five of them Latino: Gabriela Ortiz, Enrico Chapela, Charles Halka, Francisco Cortez-Alvarez and Esteban Zúñiga. The Latin bent is particularly evident in the opening atonal piece, Su Muy Key, with its strong Spanish-based rhythms, and although the music is indeed challenging harmonically it moves along with a wonderful bounce. Ruiz, thank heavens, is a strong pianist who does not shy away from attacking the keyboard with fervor. Her playing reminds me of my own except that I could never quite master as clean of a technique. The same composer’s Estudios entre preludios is equally atonal and has hints of Latin rhythm, but is a slower, somewhat dreamier piece, albeit with occasional mezzo-forte passages. In both pieces, Ortiz seems to rely quite a bit on running figures, both stepwise and arpeggiated, to make her effects. The second of the Estudios is an homage to György Ligeti; later on there is an homage to Béla Bartók, although the strong ostinato rhythm of this piece sounds more like George Antheil than Bartók. The homage to Jesusa Palancares, a name unknown to me, is full of loud, driving rhythms that press forward like a piledriver. In the preludio 4, the pianist seems to be playing a prepared piano: the sound is more hollow, and there are some microtones involved. There is also an homage to musical satirist John Cage.

Chapela’s Duelo en vela is a bitonal piece in a medium tempo. It, too, alludes to a Latin rhythm, but almost by allusion rather than outright statement; there are several interruptions in the beat, and the music lopes along like a dancer with a broken leg. It is, however, a fascinating piece in its own right, with a quixotic melodic line that somehow pulls together and makes sense. By contrast, Halka’s Miniatures are relatively still, quiet pieces, in the tradition of Erik Satie except with disturbing and somewhat menacing bass notes tossed in for color, although No. 3 has a strong but asymmetric rhythm while No. 4 (“Freely”) sounds a bit like classical mood music except for its bitonal bent. Cortez-Alvarez’ Danza del parque also uses asymmetric rhythms in a bitonal setting.

The recital closes with Zúñiga’s Velocidad de reacción, which begins with two mysterious, lonely notes, followed by running figures in the right hand against rootless chords in the left. Once again we hear a Latin-type rhythm, but now it is stuttering and uneven with moments of quiet repose tossed in for contrast. This piece is constructed of relatively simple blocks of sound, including repeated open fifth chords in D (sometimes with accidentals thrown into the middle of them) which somewhat halt the flow of this Velocidad, yet which holds the listener’s interest. In the middle section, around 7:50, Ruiz again seems to be playing a different, prepared piano for some time.

This is, in toto, a very interesting recital, although the music of Ortiz and Chapela is by far the most interesting, complex and distinguished.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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