The Transcendentalist = SCRIABIN: 5 Preludes; Reverie; Guirlandes; Poeme languide; CAGE: Dream; In a Landscape; FELDMAN: Palais de Mari; WOLLSCHLEGER: Music Without Metaphor – Ivan Ilic, p. – Heresy

The Transcendentalist = SCRIABIN: 5 Preludes; Reverie, Op. 49, No. 3; Guirlandes, Op. 73, No. 1; Poeme languide, Op. 52, No. 3; CAGE: Dream; In a Landscape; FELDMAN: Palais de Mari; WOLLSCHLEGER: Music Without Metaphor – Ivan Ilic, p. – Heresy Records 015, 64:08 (5/27/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Serbian piano virtuoso Ivan Ilic (b. 1978) has designed a recital (rec. September and November 2013 at Salle Cortot, Paris) that explores the Romantics’ sense of “transcendentalism,” in the Emersonian attempt to reach beyond rationalism and empiricism into – here, for Ilic – an affective, sonic world that proffers the intricate and reflective intuitions of creative thought.  In other words, Ilic wishes to pass beyond the Liszt notion that “transcendence” in music refers “merely” to the dazzling display of physical technique that emphasizes speed, agility, and control.

Ilic’s application of “luxurious pedal” immediately presents itself in the B Major Prelude, Op. 16, No. 1 of Scriabin, the mystic Russian whose liquid notion of the keyboard “transcends” the Chopin and Liszt ethos. The ensuing Prelude in B-flat Major, Op. 11, No. 21 proffers a sweet barcarolle-like meditation, brief but rife with wistful poetry. The expansive “Garland,” Op. 73, No. 1 well reaches into Scriabin’s mature sound world, tonal but lifted by the high keyboard registers into a rarified, ecstatic space. Ilic then explores Scriabin’s Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 1, a nocturne much in the Chopin-Rachmaninov mode, serene within its own askew syntax. The Prelude in G Major, Op. 39, No. 3 begins to explore Scriabin’s love of expanded chords, although the ostinato bass line remains pure Chopin. The Prelude in E Major, Op. 15, No. 4 offers a series of ethereal raindrops, plastic and brightly meditative, at once. Reverie, besides characterizing Scriabin’s tiny Op. 49, No. 3, names his first orchestral work, Op. 24. A mixture of whole tone and scalar fourths, the music stands at the threshold of Scriabin’s late, ethereal concision. “Languid” as a term “belongs to Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Scriabin’s Poeme languide moves cautiously, each tone or tone cluster a distinct entity connected to the next in a string of uneasy pearls.

Music Without Metaphor (2013) by Scott Wollschleger (b. 1980) exploits rather delicate sonorities, perhaps in the evocation of serene space – by way of whole-tone and slightly pentatonic scales – without resorting to the syntax of the “space music” of the 1990s. The composer likes to compare his highly calligraphic scores to Japanese brush paintings, the sense of figure’s suddenly and chromatically emergent from a spatial continuum. A more harsh epithet would label the piece “weak Debussy.”

The two pieces by John Cage (1912-1992) remind me immediately of my meeting with him at a colloquium at SUNY Binghamton, where in the course or my own remarks to him, Cage openly – and entirely within the ethos of Zen and Alan Watts – admitted he did not give credence to “objective reality.” The two pieces date from 1948, lyrically attractive works that invoke pentatonic scales and a major degree of melodic or scalar repetition. Dream seems quite close to Debussy’s own romantic piano piece Reverie, cross-fertilized by Eastern gamelan sonority and Satie. Rorem would likely credit the “immaculate” sonority of In a Landscape to Ravel’s influence, Chopin’s slow movement from his Op. 58 Sonata, as well as Bach’s C Major Prelude from WTC I.

John Cage introduced the music of Alexander Scriabin to Morton Feldman (1926-1987). Like Scriabin, Feldman makes his music extend the chord to embrace ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths, even while eschewing a distinct key center. Feldman luxuriates in large forms, particularly if they progress through his favorite pianissimo.  The Palais de Mari (1986) dominates this recital, an extensive, twenty-three minute work that seems to “liberate” sonorities for their own sake. If Scriabin’s pedal here remains active, so does his plangent modal, parlando style. Among the various virtues required of both performer and auditor of Feldman will be patience. Maybe you’ll savor this piece one palace room at a time, assuming you can “transcend” your chosen listening posiiton.

—Gary Lemco

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