“Ascent” = BOWEN: Phastasy, Op. 54; CLARICE ASSAD: Metamorfose; SCHUMANN: Marchenbilder, Op. 133; GARTH KNOX: Fuga libre; SHOSTAKOVICH: Impromptu; WAXMAN: Carmen Fantasie – Matthew Lipman, viola/ Henry Kramer, piano – Cedille 90000 184, 64:37 *****:
This absolutely spectacular album has much to recommend it. Matthew Lipman, whose shelf space must be struggling to contain all the awards and accolades he is receiving, is a 26-year-old Avery Fischer Career Grant recipient current on the faculty of Stony Brook University, performing all around the world and at numerous festivals.
This recital, his debut album, is chosen to illuminate the artist’s many strengths, all revolving around fantasy, change, and the flight of the spirit. York Bowen, once regarded as a compositional and pianistic wunderkind, has seen his star lose some luster over the years, quite unfairly. Yet this wonderful and richly-imbued harmonically Phantasy is a piece that has seen a lot of performances and recordings over the years. It’s hothouse representations of a post-Rachmaninoff idiom likens it to an English version of the vastness of an early Schoenberg dialectic where tonality reaches in all directions to convey the innermost musings of the composer. One of my personal favorites, I never cease to delight in the many rapturous sentiments it conveys, especially when played with such passion as Lipman demonstrates.
Lipman dedicates this album to the memory of his mother, who reposed in 2014. One work composed specially for the remembrance is Clarice Assad’s Metamorfose. Assad’s work is highly effective, portraying the painful yet ultimately glorious transformation of a butterfly, paralleling the stages of grief.
One of the most beloved, and tragic, episodes in the history of music is the relationship between Robert Schumann and his beloved wife, Clara. Meeting her when she was only nine years old, his eventual battle with her father to obtain her in marriage succeeded, leading to a sixteen-year relationship that was for the most part happy, yet in the end deteriorated along with the composer’s physical and mental abilities. His Fairy Tale Pictures are among his most effective pieces, written in 1851, just three years before his attempted suicide and consequent degradation. They are reflective of the soaring happiness and deep penetrative feeling that we only seem to get from Schumann at his best.
Garth Knox, former violist of the Arditti Quartet and member of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, surely knows the contemporary idiom as well as anyone. Yet his Bach-based transformations of the fugal genre seem anything but off-putting, so natural and inevitable is the train of thought. Baroque-revisited it may well be, but Fuga libre is an engrossing and inviting jump into an old world newly-fashioned.
A quick interlude is offered with the Shostakovich Impromptu. This devilish little piece, discovered only in 2017 in the Moscow State Archives, is dated 1931 and presumably dedicated to the violist Alexandre Ryvkin of the once famous Glazunov Quartet, makes one hope that there are still undiscovered works of the composer lingering out there somewhere.
Finally, the tried, true, and most likely way-overplayed Carmen Fantasie by Franz Waxman, offers Lipman a chance to display the considerable technical prowess that forms the background of this young violist’s astounding arsenal. Originally composed for Jascha Heifetz for the 1947 film Humoresque, the violinist’s salary requirements discouraged the studio from further efforts, and they settled—if that is the word—for the 26-year-old Isaac Stern instead. The piece has since become a staple of every virtuoso violinist in history, and Matthew Lipman is not willing to let the smaller instrument have the last word, rendering an exquisite account that bring to the full his remarkable and vibrantly deep, chocolate tone.
This is a no brainer. Acquire this music with some urgency.