Presentiment: Orion Weiss = GRANADOS: Goyescas; JANACEK: In the Mists; SCRIABIN: “Black Mass” Piano Sonata  

by | May 2, 2018 | Classical CD Reviews

Orion Weiss initiates his own label with a recital ominous in its visions of the WW I apocalypse. 

Presentiment: Orion Weiss = GRANADOS: Goyescas, Op. 11; JANACEK: In the Mists; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 “Black Mass” – Orion Weiss, piano –  Orion Weiss, 74:18 (3/2/18) ****: 

Orion Weiss (b. 1981) has chosen three major piano compositions from the period 1911-1913, each anticipating the throes of WW I and its cataclysm for the world spirit. What Gustav Mahler would label the “Century of Death” had already begun to “flood the aesthetic of the old with anxiety, nostalgia, and confusion.”  Weiss describes this music as conveying “foreboding, tormented by premonitions of a horrific future.”  Performing on a Steinway CD 888 at SUNY Purchase (May 2014) as produced by David Frost, Weiss achieves alternately liquid and clarion tones that project love and death as two sides of a fateful coin.

The 1911 six-movement piano suite Goyescas, Op. 11 of Enrique Granados takes its sensibility from the often Gothic paintings of Francisco Goya, “the last of the Old Masters and the first of the New.” The subtitle of the suite Los majos enamorados indicates that the subject will be love-affairs of working class young men of lower-class Madrid and the maids who receive their advances. Granados limits his melodic tissue to three or four melodies in perpetual harmonic and intervallic flux, a unity-in-variety of his main theme: a man courts a woman; they declare their love; they must separate and so declare their sorrow; he dies. The Epilogue sings of love, hope, innocence and their transformation into longing anxiety, and regret.

Enrique Granados

The opening piece, Requiebros (flirtations) invites guitar flourishes in an eight-syllable jota, ornamented in mordents, triplets, and castanet effects. The give-and-take in the tempo accompanies the ever-mounting tonal palette that signifies the expected rapture. The love-duet follows, with Weiss proclaiming the “colloquy” as a dark tryst rife with passion and shadows. The sumptuous sound image—as a result of the constant barrage of ornaments—assumes both a Baroque and Romantic sensibility, at once.  El Fandango de Candil has the couple dancing by candlelight, the implication lies in the fact that the “dance” will continue throughout an amorous night. The fourth piece of the set, Quejas – o la maja y el ruisenor is an operatic scene in which a maja sits on a bench in a palace garden, beguiled by a nightingale that laments by the light of the moon. Here, the maiden and Nature commune in sadness, since her lover is to fight a fatal duel. The exquisite El amor y la muerte – Balada encapsulates the broader message as completely as the opera Tristan und Isolde.  Weiss delivers a ravishing, expansive symphonic poem for keyboard, rife with Spain and Liszt. The Epilogo contains elements of irony as well sadness, projecting a danse macabre that will end with Death’s strumming a fading guitar.

The 1912 four-movement suite In the Mists of Leos Janacek takes its Moravian sound-world from violins and the cembalom. The music builds up from small, melodic kernels, harmonized in chords inspired by Debussy, but infiltrated by the falling third, emblematic of Death. The Andante sets a five-note melody against ostinato left-hand harmony. The central section intimates a soft chorale. Then, the music cascades in dulcimer sonority just before the melancholy opening tune returns. The Molto adagio moves by a four-note progression that sporadically accelerates in transformations of itself. Some of the harmonies suggest late Liszt, like Nuage gris. The Andantino presents an idée fixe, a seeming, gracious phrase (rife with the death-interval) that moves into varying keys until tumultuously interrupted by its own development material, only to return to its original state. A plastic sense of meter marks the Presto, typifying the means of gypsy music and Moravian folk tunes. The left hand imparts the cembalom or Bohemian dulcimer, which thrums while the right hand washes the sound with a metallic gloss.  The falling third makes its dread appearance prior to the coda, and the music fragments kaleidoscopically into a lament that drifts and disappears.

Alexander Scriabin

Scriabin composed his “Black Mass” Sonata No. 9 in 1913.  The bare and sparse texture has its complement in the imitative writing and repeated notes (“mysterieusement murmure”). Scriabin seems to reminisce on Liszt’s Satanic flurries in the B Minor Sonata. The liquid phrases soon assume a sense of parody, much in the manner of Berlioz and his transformation of his own idée fixe into a Night of the Black Sabbath. We have Weiss performing crescendos of trills. Scriabin marks one of his progressions “poisonous,” just as the music hurtles ever faster, more manic and obsessive. Suddenly, after a “parade of the forces of evil,” in the words of the composer, the music collapses into what the writer A.E. Hull called “molecular vertigo.” The opening motif recurs but our sense of place and security has vanished, the veil of illusion rent with terrifying efficacy.

—Gary Lemco

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