Classical CD Reviews

McCormick Percussion Group, “Concerti for Piano with Percussion Orch.” = IGOR SANTOS : Moppet; MEL MOBLEY: [PLEEZ],(PLĒZ),/PLIZ/; DAVID GILLINGHAM: Concerto for Piano and Percussion Orch.; DAVID NOON: Piano Concerto No. 3 – McCormick Percussion Group/ Ji Hyun Kim, piano/ Robert McCormick – Ravello Records

Interesting works that showcase the piano as percussion.

Published on March 10, 2013

McCormick Percussion Group, “Concerti for Piano with Percussion Orchestra” = IGOR SANTOS : Moppet; MEL MOBLEY: [PLEEZ],(PLĒZ),/PLIZ/; DAVID GILLINGHAM: Concerto for Piano and Percussion Orch.; DAVID NOON: Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 232 – McCormick Percussion Group/ Ji Hyun Kim, piano/Robert McCormick – Ravello Records RR7862, 60:15 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Robert McCormick is one of the country’s foremost advocates and educators of classical cutting-edge percussion. McCormick, a former member of the legendary Harry Partch Ensemble, is a percussion professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. No wonder that his McCormick Percussion Group has a terrific reputation and this collection is a very rewarding introduction to their talents if you are unfamiliar with them.

Here are five very interesting works for piano and percussion ensemble, each of which treats the piano is virtuosic fashion but also a totally inclusive member of the percussion family. Moppet by Igor Santos is a jittery and propulsive, rhythmically complex that takes its title as well as the writing within the work from the notion of a hard to contain child; alternating throwing “tantrums” in the piano and being assuaged by the percussion. The mood vacillates suddenly from frenzied to tranquil is this is a most interesting work. Santos is a graduate of USF and Eastman and is quite involved in the Florida new music scene.

Mel Mobley is a professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The unusual title, [pleez],(plēz),/pliz/, symbolizes what the composer describes as the ability of musical expression, like words, to change its “meaning” in varying contexts. In this piece the piano and percussion act as unified partners using various rhythmic figures to react to an original rhythmic motive; going through complex divisions and even separations with silence. I find the vast variety within the work hard to predict but, therefore, quite fun to follow.

The two concerti for piano with percussion ensemble have some things in common and are both excellent, compelling works.  David Gillingham’s Concerto for Piano and Percussion Orchestra is written in a standard three-movement form; slow-fast-slow, and has some very nice emotion throughout. The central movement, ‘Elegy in Memory of Robert Hohner’, is particularly attractive; actually very plaintive and beautiful. Hohner was one of the country’s best known contemporary percussionists and leader of his own ensemble. Gillingham is a Professor of Music at Central Michigan University.

David Noon is the former Dean of Academics at the Manhattan School of Music and presently serves as a visiting professor at the Central Conservatory in Beijing. His Piano Concerto No.3 was written for the McCormick Percussion Group and also follows a three-movement form with great energy in the outer movements and a quite beautiful central ‘Notturno Semplice.

Of these four wonderful works, I enjoyed Gillingham’s Concerto the most but these are all terrific pieces from a very skilled and important contemporary percussion ensemble. Special kudos go to piano soloist Ji Hyun Kim, a graduate of the USF at Tampa as well as the University of Miami. She presently serves as an adjunct professor at Korea’s Sung-Shin Women’s University.  I recommend this disc highly and also suggest you seek out McCormick’s “Concerti for Strings with Percussion Orchestra”; also on Ravello.

—Daniel Coombs

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