MICHAEL TORKE: Miami Grands – Miami Piano Circle/ Georgi Danchev – Ecstatic

MICHAEL TORKE: Miami Grands – Miami Piano Circle/ Georgi Danchev – Ecstatic ER092252 [Distr. by Naxos] (11/14/15) 48:10 ***:

For me, and many others, Michael Torke’s music has always been cleverly constructed; not self-consciously ponderous at all, sometimes based on outrageous concepts but always pretty entertaining.

Such is the case with Miami Grands, a work for ten grand pianos – all at once. Even better than the concept is the reality that there is an existing ensemble in Miami – the present Miami Piano Circle. I have discovered that Torke was commissioned by said ivory circle and that Miami Grands does not always use all ten members and pianos at once but when they do the sounds are, as they are here, almost unbelievable in their synchronicity – almost like walking in on a music department rehearsal hall with many, many people all practicing bits of the same concerto for the big competition. Forgive the analogy but that’s what this seemed like (as I also wondered where does Miami Piano Circle get their rep anyway?)

Torke’s piece is carefully and cleverly written to represent locales and scenes around Miami and each of the twelve appropriately titled movements (such as “Star Island” or the picturesque “Mojitos and Stilettos”) is also intended to represent the activity of Miami in one twenty-four day.

Torke’s booklet comments also elaborate that, in each movement, a main theme is played against a version of itself exactly twice as long (as in Baroque counterpoint; augmentation) He also used specific pitch correction when the resultant counterpoint strayed too far from both diatonic tonality as well as classical form.

Regardless of the theory and form used, the ‘theme’ is typical of Torke; jaunty, upbeat, just a bit ‘south Florida’ tinged with lounge sounds and the piece is quite entertaining. I enjoy most of Michaels’ music a great deal and have had the pleasure of playing some of it. He is a unique voice; with elements of ‘minimalism’ (what is left of that concept), jazz and always just a little tongue-in-cheek. That’s what I like about it and that is what he does best.

Certainly just to see that there is a piece written for ten pianos conjures up the work of Graham Fitkin or Steve Reich but Miami Grands is impossible to describe. I’m not sure if ten pianos for forty-eight minutes is in everyone’s patience rubric (I found the length to be pushing it just a bit) but it is overall pretty entertaining and certainly quite the novelty. True Torke fans will enjoy this and pianists whose initial reaction to the concept is something involving raised eyebrows should hear this just to be impressed and, hopefully, rewarded.

—Daniel Coombs

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