Quilico Plays American Works


LIEBERMANN: Apparitions. DEL TREDICI: Fantasy Pieces. RZEWSKI: The Turtle and the Crane. JAEGER: Quivi Sospiri. DAVIDOVSKY: Synchronisms. HUEBNER: Ocotillo / Christina Petrowska Quilico, pno / Navona NV6384 (live: recording dates not given)

Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico pays tribute to five American composers in this new album, scheduled for release on November 19, but to a certain extent I question the CD’s title, Vintage Americana simply because most of these works are by later-day American composers. Me, personally, I consider “vintage” American composers to be members of the Copland-Thomson-Barber era. I seriously doubt that anyone has collected the music of Lowell Liebermann, Mario Davidovsky and especially the late Frederic Rzewski on 1960s-era reel-to-reel tape recorders like the one pictured on the cover.

Quilico’s performance of the Liebermann Apparitions are even brisker and have more frisson in them than the composer’s own recordings of them (on a Steinway & Sons CD), particularly in the third piece, “Affretando misterioso,” which she plays brilliantly. In the slower pieces of this suite, i.e. “Supplichevole,” her taut phrasing gives shape to a piece that might otherwise sound rambling. She is an excellent musician, and to do all of these pieces in a “live” environment takes an enormous amount of concentration.

Del Tredici’s Fantasy Pieces are typical of this fine but often overlooked composer’s output, combining bitonality with lyricism in his own individual manner, and Quilico’s playing does the music full justice, juxtaposing these two complementary yet opposing elements. Note, for instance, the high-lying, sprinkled notes in the upper treble during “Largo, senza tempo” against the more relaxed melody line played in the middle of the keyboard.

Rzewski’s The Turtle and the Crane is typical of his eccentric style; the former host of the old NPR radio show St, Paul Sunday once referred to him as a “strange creature” when the chamber group eighth blackbird played his piece Les Moutons des Panurge back in the early 2000s. Consistent motor rhythms, constantly repeated musical patterns and then the unexpected shifts in this piece are all hallmarks of his quirky style. Then, suddenly, at around the 3:34 mark, he just stops the music and after a pause, resumes slowly at first before increasing (and decreasing) the tempo. And it keeps on changing and morphing as it goes along its nearly 17-minute length.

In David Jaeger’s Quivi Sospiri, Quilico plays an ominous dirge-like bitonal melodic line against a pre-recorded tape, creating an eerie effect. Since the composer intended this to represent “the Third Canto of Dante’s Inferno,” in which everything is in total darkness. I’d say he achieved his goal. And if anything, Mario Davidowsky’s Synchronisms, also played by piano and prepared tape, is even more atonal, yet somehow Quilico manages to find a lyrical thread in this piece which he follows brilliantly through the maze of sounds. The program concludes with Paul Huebner’s Ocotillo, yet another piece involving pre-recorded tape. In this work, the composer avoided what could have been a series of unrelated sounds by writing almost continuous trills for the pianist which somehow coalesce into a theme.

This is a recital after my own heart: interesting modern music, well programmed and expertly played, bringing out both the mood and the structure of each work. Lovers of modern piano music should not miss this one!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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