Reed Tetzloff: Sounds of Transcendence = Piano Works by GRIFFES; SCRIABIN; FRANCK – Reed Tetzloff, piano – Romeo Records 

Pianist Reed Tetzloff approaches three late Romantic composers by way of their transcendent visions.  

Reed Tetzloff: Sounds of Transcendence = GRIFFES: Piano Sonata; The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan; SCRIABIN: Valse in A-flat Major, Op. 38; Fragilite, Op. 51, No. 1; Enigme, Op. 52, No. 2; Sonata No. 7, Op. 64 “White Mass”; Vers la Flamme, Op. 72; FRANCK: Prelude, Chorale et Fugue – Reed Tetzloff, piano – Romeo Records 7323, 70:40  (11/1/17) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Reed Tetzloff (b. 1992), a graduate of Mannes College and recipient of the CME International Performing Arts Grant,  presents a recital in the spirit of C.S. Lewis, whom he cites in the liner notes: “I was made for another world… Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy [my desire] but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” Consequently, Tetzloff chooses music (rec. 15-24 March 2017) that appeals to his Platonic or Emersonian concept of the Over-Soul in the form of three hyper-Romantic composers.

The 1919 Piano Sonata of Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1872-1920) opens the recital, a work of rather audacious vision on the part of the composer, who took his “German” training to and beyond the accepted musical envelope, having imbibed aspects of Debussy, Wagner, and Roussel into his especial idiom. In the course of this mighty and nervously quicksilver piece, more than one musical rule falls to the iconoclast, from the very first, eight-note chord: B-flat, C-sharp, D, E-flat, F, F-sharp, G-sharp and A.  The resultant “synthetic scale” permits Griffes to traverse all kinds of emotional circuits, including a hazy Molto tranquillo second movement and a finale, Allegro vivace that has something of Prokofiev’s driving force.

The ensuing The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan  (1912; rev. and orch. 1919) presents a highly chromatic and pentatonic piece based on the poetic fragment by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, conceived after an opium (actually laudanum) induced dream. The poem itself addresses the plastic power of the imagination to give birth to itself in a paroxysm of imagery that embraces life and death, the sensuous power of Promethean energies. Tetzloff imbues the eight minutes of exotic solipsism with an erotic, impulsive sense of nuance, exactly the quality he provides to the mystical refinement of Alexander Scriabin.

The Scriabin (1872-1915) group opens with the Valse in A-flat Major, clearly indebted to the salon-style of Parisian Chopin. But even given the Chopin model, Scriabin quickly exceeds that composer’s boundaries, inviting aspects of ballade and etude into the mix. The convulsive gestures already indicate an impatience with traditional, polite forms.  The constant flow of “pearls” in the musical line point to Walter Pater’s sense of the “gemlike flame” of art, to which Scriabin will aspire in his Op. 72.  The two miniature poems of Op. 51 flirt with eroticism and musical atonality. The latter piece, “Enigma,” might take its original cue from Schumann’s “Prophet Bird.” Scriabin’s liberating trill makes its presence felt.  The 1911 White Mass Sonata proffers opening, repeated chords of chimes, flashes of light, incense, fire, clouds, perfume—a veritable cornucopia of visual, auditory and olfactory associations.  The music will embrace five octaves, from the lower depths to the very ecstasies of hieratic liberation. The mortal storm transcends itself in a vision that Scriabin wished to call “Mysterium,” a synthesis of his personal Ego with the Divine. This weird dance of Shiva finally concludes with broken flashes of melodic kernels that dissolve into space, the crossed hands and evaporation easily reminiscent of Wagner’s Liebestod.  The Scriabin experience concludes with the 1914 Vers la Flamme, meant to begin a new sonata, but instead remaining a compressed poem of graduated, rising,  echo-color that revels in high, repeated notes.  Theatrically dramatic as it is manifestly erotic, the music invites Tetzloff to demonstrate his mastery of color effects to obvious advantage.

Tetzloff concludes with familiar music of Cesar Franck (1822-1890), his Prelude, Chorale et Fugue, Op. 21 (1884), conceived in the spirit of Bach, specifically his Crucifixus from the Mass in b minor.  The falling third as a unifying device here finds an alignment with groups of descending fourths in the manner of Wagner’s Parsifal. Franck himself encourages bell-tones from the keyboard, another ecstasy of spiritualized eroticism. The seven-note, syncopated chorale is set in E-flat Major, both a sturdy, martial progression and a sweeping exercise in arpeggios. The descending fourths provide – after a Lisztian kind of cadenza—the subject for the fugue, with its own climaxes and then soft transition into B Major, Tetzloff’s resounding fourth’s uttering a peal of triumph.

Recorded sound and mastering expertly crafted by Recording Engineer Ryan Steeber.

—Gary Lemco

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