“American Lyricism” = THEOFANIDIS: All Dreams Begin With the Horizon; DANIELPOUR: The Enchanted Garden: Preludes, Book II; MONICA HOUGHTON: Piano Sonata; JUSTIN MERRITT: Chaconne: Mercy Endures; PIERRE JALBERT: Toccata – Christopher Atzinger, p. – MSR MS 1534 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
American pianist Christopher Atzinger, currently on the faculty of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, has chosen a program that attempts to define modern lyricism in contemporary music. He has chosen well; all of these pieces demonstrate a lively and strongly melodic penchant for contemporary communication while not shirking what has gone before, and making good use of the American idiom which has its roots in popular song and jazz.
Christopher Theofanidis is one of the finest of our recent composers, and his All Dreams Begin with the Horizon fits perfectly well in his characterization of music with descriptive and often esoteric titles. This one was intended to be a little light—to be played “at a salon-like party”—and is a tribute of sorts to the miniatures of Schumann. Richard Danielpour is a composer with whom I have had a love-hate relationship for many years, finding his music generally either completely bloated or incomprehensible, or remarkably full of clarity and wondrously evocative. This is the second part of his Preludes, written seventeen years later than part one, and to me both books represent his best—masterpiece is not an inappropriate word. Atzinger plays Theofanidis and Danielpour very well, though I am not sure I would want to be without the complete Preludes.
The Sonata by Monica Houghton is a real find; she did not begin composing until the age of 39—a Margaret Brouwer student—and this piece won the 2000 Lyman Prize. It is dramatic and forceful, completely engrossing in its many moods. The dissonances of Justin Merritt’s Chaconne: Mercy Endures should prove unproblematic for most people, its internal structure based on the chorale “Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,” serving as a melodic linking fragment that ties the piece together. Pierre Jalbert’s Toccata provides a suitably brilliant finish – flashy, rhythmic, and a sure-fire crowd pleaser from the Professor of Composition at Rice University.
The sound is clear and exceptionally clean on this release, recorded at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada, and Atzinger has a formidable grasp of the music and its idiom.