FREDERIC RZEWSKI: The People United Will Never Be Defeated – Kai Schumacher, piano – Wergo

by | Jan 29, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: The People United Will Never Be Defeated – Kai Schumacher, piano – Wergo WER 6730 2, 64:50 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***½:

Rzewski (zheff-skee) is an American composer and virtuoso pianist, who studied in the U.S. and Europe. Many of his compositions, such as this famous one, are inspired by socio-historical themes, showing a deep political conscience as well as strong improvisational portions. Slonimsky, in his Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, said Rzewski was “capable of depositing huge boulders of sonoristic material across the keyboard without actually wrecking the instrument.”

The People United Will Never Be Defeated is actually 36 variations on the song by Sergio Ortega known in Spanish as El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido. The composer was in Chile and had crossed the plaza in Santiago where a street singer was shouting out the song. The incessant chanting followed Rzewski and stayed in his mind; later he sat down at the piano and reproduced the chant of the people in his head in this set of 36 wild and wooly variations. (Three months later the CIA-supported Pinochet coup occurred.)

The 36 variations are divided into six cycles in which different musical relationships appear.  They are: 1) simple events, 2) rhythms, 3) melodies, 4) counterpoints, 5) harmonies, 6) combinations of these 5. Two other songs also appear in the variations: the Italian revolutionary song Bandiera Rossa, and Hanns Eisler’s antifascist song of 1932 Solidaritats Lied. The main theme has such power that it really doesn’t become tiresome in the 65-minute work, and Schumacher is an excellent pianist.  However, I find the 1994 CD on the New Albion label (NA 063 CD) by pianist Stephen Drury to be much better sonically, with greater clarity and richness of piano sound thruout, and just as fine a performance.

 – John Sunier

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