TIMO ANDRES: Heavy Sleep; J.S. BACH/REGER: Chorale Prelude in B Minor; J.S. BACH/SILOTI: Prelude in B Minor; J.S. BACH: Prelude and Fugue in B Minor; Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; J.S. BACH/KURTAG: Gottes Zeit is die allerbest Zeit (“God’s Time is the very best time”); MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: El Male Rachamim (A Prayer in Memory of György Ligeti) – Bruce Levingston, piano – Sono Luminus DSL-92183, 67:35 [Distr. by Naxos] (1/27/15) ****:
This is a very unusual piano collection. It is in many ways a thematic or “concept” album where you should expect all the pieces herein to be quiet and fairly slow-paced. In many ways it is kind of sleep inducing, but that is not a criticism. Neither should it be criticism that all the works here are a bit elegiac and not at all virtuosic and propulsive.
The title, “Heavy Sleep”, according to publisher’s notes is meant to reference not only the opening work on this album, but also to note the phrase’s allusion to death and eternal sleep. Surely we have musical references to death, eternal rest, and so forth. In some ways, I guess the whole is a bit dark and melancholic. However, there is also a lot of excellent music here. The works of the great J.S. Bach are synonymous with the Baroque and with greatness. They may or may not be one’s favorite style (not mine, I confess) but they are brilliant. Some of his very best- known keyboard and choral music is represented here (and mostly in one of the master’s most often used keys; B minor). I was surprised and impressed with the transcriptions by Max Reger (he himself an organist), Alexander Siloti (a Russian pianist-composer) and György Kurtág. Each of these is expectedly beautiful and delicate to listen to.
I admit that that the two new works held the most interest for me. Timo Andres is a very talented “up and coming” New York- based pianist and composer whose work I am just starting to get familiar with. His title work, Heavy Sleep, takes its name from a poem by Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. It is essentially a chaconne inspired by a Chopin coda. In Andres’ words, it provides a kind of “Debussy + Bach vibe.” It is a beautiful work that I could listen to repeatedly.
I felt very positively as well about El Male Rachamim (A Prayer in Memory of György Ligeti) by Mohammed Fairouz – as I do all of his music. This young New Yorker is already a force in American contemporary music and quite a talent. Fairouz studied with the late Ligeti for awhile and this touching five-movement work takes its inspiration from the poem “El Male Rachamim (God full of mercy)” by Yehuda Amichai and the funeral rites that inspired it. There are moments of great respite in this work and also moments of great unrest; of sorrow and a lack of resolution. There are always elements of Fairouz’s culture that run through his music and the result is always beautiful and sad; hopeful and worrisome all at once. For me, this was the highlight work of this album.
Pianist Bruce Levingston is a great proponent of contemporary music. The New York Times has called him one of “today’s most adventurous musicians” and praised his performances as “graceful”, “dreamy”, and “hauntingly serene”. Physically, Levingston has a great stage presence and conveys depth with every performance so it seems. This is a very unique piano disc; one that might not appeal to everyone but I heartily endorse the tone of the collection and think that the two new works, by Andres and Fairouz, are well worth exploring in particular.
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