Rzewski Plays Rzewski – The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (2007)

by | Mar 27, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Rzewski Plays Rzewski – The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (2007)
Frederic Rzewski performs his 36 Variations on the Chilean song by Sergio Ortega, at the 2007 Miami International Piano Festival
Studio: Video Artists International VAI 4440
Video: 4:3 window-boxed color
Audio: PCM Stereo
All regions
Extras: Printed booklet
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: *****

New piano music specialist Ursula Oppens was planning a recital with Beethoven’s massive Diabelli Variations and was looking for a new work that would be a companion piece to it. She commissioned pianist-composer Frederic Rzewski (CHEF-ski), who wrote 36 amazing variations on the political protest song which became the anthem for the Chilean Resistance during the Allende regime. Organized in groups of six, they cover an outrageous extreme range of styles which yet seem to all work together. Even when the wildest avant note-smashing is going on, you still have the rather simple and catchy song’s melody in your head.
Nicolas Slonimsky described Rzewski’s music as a “shimmering distant vision of optimistic, positivistic anti-music.”  There are unbelievable extremes of sound, expression, delivery, etc. that seem to sometimes take the piano keyboard into a whole different dimension. Slonimsky also mentions the “huge boulders of sonoristic material” that seem almost to wreck the piano. You may worry that the lid support will give way and it will come slamming down suddenly. Yet the effect is somehow different from wilder keyboardist-composers such as Sorabji, in that the simple Chilean song’s melody and its rhythms hold everything together.
The “Note from the Composer/Pianist” in the booklet is a must-read. Rzewski  first apologizes for his clams in the first part of the performance; sometimes due to having to turn his pages. Yes, he does use the music—when you hear it you’ll understand why! Then he goes on to discuss how rather than admire the superhuman techniques of the historic greats at the keyboard, he is more interested in their human weakness—wondering, for example, “How is this guy going to get out of this one?”
The video captures Rzewski’s busy hands on the keyboard very well, though I can never understand why some DVDs don’t fill the screen vertically, but use a picture-frame design, with bars all the way around. The audio, by Peter McGrath, is superb—as fine piano reproduction as any SACD—and this work is certainly (with all its other qualities) a fantastic audiophile piano demo!
—John Sunier

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