Prisuelos Tackles Stockhausen & Ligeti

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RICERCATA / SHOSTAKOVICH: 24 Preludes. STOCKHAUSEN: Klavierstück IX. LIGETI: Musica Ricercata / Mario Prisuelos, pno / IBS Classical 82019

IBS Classical, the Spanish label with imagination and a brain, has done it again: given us a thoughtful program of modern music played by yet another Spanish musician who dares to fly in the face of convention. I gave two awards this year to IBS recordings and only hope that the “big boys” at the Grammys or Grand Prix du Disque recognize at least one of their recordings for its high performance quality and innovative programming.

Aside from the musical content and quality, however, what staggers the imagination is that this, like so many recent CDs of “entrarte musik” banned by the Nazis, Fascists and Communists, this album is earmarked as “The Piano in the Face of Repression.” The reason I am staggered by this is that the New World Order is pushing radical Socialism in every free country in the world, even here in the United States, by radical politicians, media, and college professors as a “benevolent” societal form that will make things “equal for everyone” without explaining that dictatorial methods and the elimination of all those who oppose it is just as bad as the Russian starvation of the Ukraine in 1932, the earlier and later Stalinist purges of anyone who disagreed with his methods, the Nazis’ eradication of six million Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals, the Maoist purges of China and Tibet and the ongoing eradication of those who oppose the current Chinese regime. Socialism is not a nice or kind ideology. Former close friends and a relative of mine have posts on their Facebook pages showing them with weapons and calling for the eradication of anyone who opposes Progressivism, which unfortunately includes me. “We” must be eradicated from the face of the earth. So tell me, what’s the difference?

Shostakovich was never killed or sent to a Gulag, but he came close several times during his life. In the late 1930s, or so I’ve been told, he slept in the hallway of his apartment so that when the KGB came to arrest him they wouldn’t wake up his family. But for the most part, he was merely the victim of cruel head games played by Stalin to keep younger, more modern composers in tow, and the 1948 decree against “formalism” in music was just one in a long string of them. At least his father-in-law was not murdered in his sleep, as Stalin ordered for the father-in-law of Mieczysław Weinberg. As for the music, it’s pretty good but, to my ears, not as great as the later set of Preludes & Fugues Op. 87. There are too many preludes in this set that fall back on Shostakovich’s unfortunate tendency to write truly vulgar music, pointlessly ugly in its own way as was most of the music of Penderecki. In between these vulgar moments, however, are some real little gems, and it was these that I enjoyed listening to the most.

Prisuelos appears to be a pianist who, if he were playing standard repertoire, would gravitate to Mozart and Chopin. He enjoys the lingering style rather than a straightahead one. In Shostakovich, this can work to diffuse some of the vulgarisms, but overall I would have preferred that he just play the music straight.

We enter an entirely different world, however, with Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX. I always feel a bit suspicious of Stockhausen because he wrote so much electronic music, which in my view isn’t really music at all, merely the random excrement exuded by an electronic device, and he carried this aesthetic over to his music for more conventional instruments. In this case, however, there are islands of quietude in between his grating multi-tonal chords and pounding rhythms that make the latter a bit more bearable, and as the music continues one realizes that there is indeed form and substance to it—just not very likable form and substance. Prisuelo plays this with a combination of forceful attacks in the grating passages and more Chopin-like lingering in the soft ones.

But just as in the story of the Three Bears and their porridge, where one bowl was too hot, one bowl was too cold and the third was just right, Gyorgy Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata is the real gem of this set, a piece that is modern and challenging yet in its own strange way fun to listen to. He uses what may be termed “extreme minimalism” in the opening, using a series of repeated, pounding A’s in different octaves on the keyboard, but in the second piece he is experimenting with a two-note sequence and, surprisingly, making some atmospheric music out of them. By the third piece, Ligeti is scattering a sequence of notes over the keyboard, even using something akin to a boogie-woogie bass line which Prisuelos plays very well. In the next piece, we get a Johnny-three-note waltz, and a strange one it is, too. Ligeti continues to play these little musical games all through this suite, which was written between 1951 and 1953.

In toto, then, generally good performances of some music not normally heard on CD. Half of the Shostakovich Preludes and the Ligeti piece remain my favorite moments on it.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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