Martin Kesuma’s “Detours”

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GRANADOS: Allegro de Concierto. VINE: 5 Bagatelles. GINASTERA: Piano Sonata No. 1. SUPRANA: Tembrang Alit. TAKEMITSU: Rain Tree Sketch II. KAPUSTIN: Variations, Op. 41. OQUIN: Detours / Martin Kesuma, pno / Centaur CRC 3636

Martin Kesuma, an Indonesian-born pianist heretofore unknown to me, really digs into this fascinating recital combining one older-style composer (Granados) with a modernist from the 1950s (Ginastera) and several modernists, of whom only Tore Takemitsu and Nikolai Kapustin are familiar names to me. Kesuma studied at both Texas State University and the University of Texas at Austin, where he currently holds positions as Piano Project Coordinator and Class Piano Teaching Assistant.

I was not at all prepared for the way Kesuma digs into Granados’ music, but he surely makes a strong case for this lesser-known concert piece by the great Spanish composer. Not only does he have power and emotion to spare, but he also produces a fine legato line when the music calls for it. This is robust but clearly articulated playing of the highest order.

The music of Carl Vine (b. 1954) is modern but rather listener-friendly, being softer and less abrasive than many of his compeers. Kesuma does a nice job of portraying both the softer textures of this score though he does not ignore the more excitable moments, which makes for an effective contrast. In the second piece, “Leggiero e legato,” for instance, Vine uses a sort of galloping 6/8 rhythm and slowly rising chromatic figures to propel the music into quirky and rather amusing shapes, and in the fourth piece (untitled) he uses swaggering syncopations to propel most of it.

KesumaAnd Kesuma certainly makes the most of Ginastera’s first piano sonata from 1952, digging into the strong but asymmetric rhythms with élan. As it turns out, Jaya Suprana’s Tembrang Alit is a lyrical piece with a rather dull repeated melody line, a sop for those who want a candy mint after listening to bitonal music. With Takemitsu we get, again, somewhat audience-friendly modern music, his Rain Tree Sketch II being a bit of an ambient piece with crushed chords.

And lo and behold, Kesuma has exactly the right feeling of swing for Kapustin’s Variations, which almost sound like a late-night jazz pianist having some fun with his or her audience.

But Wayne Oquin’s Detours, from which this CD was titled, is by far the most impressive of the modern works played here, a dramatic and imposing piece opening with crushed chords in the bass and open but bitonal chords in the treble before moving into a series of running notes played around the middle of the keyboard while the right hand adds sharply-accented chords in the upper reaches and the left hand occasionally booms out a bass note or two. It also has an interesting shape and contour, developing along its own lines in surprising yet logical ways. This is clearly one of the finest modern works for piano I’ve heard in many a year.

All in all, then, a truly outstanding recital disc, worth acquiring. You could listen to this one two times over and still not get tired of it!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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