A disc from “down under” – we have Australian pianist Michael Kieran Harvey’s presenting a strong cross-section of compatriot Carl Vine’s assembled piano oeuvre, influenced by both dance forms and contemporary Elliot Carter. The Piano Sonata No. 1 (1990) proves an accessible work that explores modal sonorities and vibrant textures. Its rhythmic complexities provide most of the musical interest, although the last movement–of a two-movement, hard-edged work wherein the second section opens with a moto perpetuo— has a kind of white-keys, brittle diatonism that rings with experimental jazz. The Second Sonata (1998) had its premier by Harvey, who had won the Ivo Pogorelich International Piano Competition playing the First Sonata. A percussive, left-motif opens the work, which borrows pages from Ravel’s bell-sounding pieces. Moody and declamatory, the opening movement becomes obsessive and virtuosic at once, the rich keyboard textures hearkening to Liszt, maybe Koechlin. Jazzy, off-accent punctuations mark the second movement, the syncopes increasing their intensity until a sudden drop to half tempo and a quieter mood, alternating recitative and cascading arpeggios, perhaps touched by Debussy or Chopin‘s Third Scherzo.
The Five Bagatelles (1995) center around the fifth, “Threnody,” composed for the victims of AIDS. A drooping scale marks Threnody, a delicate tolling of bells; they ring for thee. The first is flighty and delicate. The second taxes the wrists in its hasty figures, ,pointillist and staccato, syncopated and jazzy. The third is dreamy and plaintive, rather bare as a jazz ballad can be. The fourth is episodic, stopping and starting in jerky fashion, then liquid bubbles. Red Blues (1999) represent the interest Vine has in pedagogy, his attempt to provide four short, jazzy character pieces that serve as exercises for young players.
The Anna Landa Preludes (1996-2000) commemorate a patron of the arts in Australia who died young. Twelve in number, they lean on Debussy or Satie’s example, often terse character-pieces, like Two Fifths (No. 5), a series of chords on the interval that contract and expand into fourths and sixths, a parody of a cakewalk. Short Story emerges sweetly, arpeggios and a melodic tone sounded over a pedal. Filigree is Vines’ answer to Debussy’s Gardens in the Rain. Thumper hints sarcastically at Russian percussion. Ever After Ever gently celebrates transience, so this, too, shall pass away. Legato for Milk for Swami, followed by percussive boogie-woogie for Divertissement. A loose pentatonic scale informs Sweetsour. Another wrist-breaker in Tarantella followed by a torch-song Romance. Fughetta celebrates the contrapuntal style of old by way of modal percussion. Finally, Chorale, a secular meditation which rather sums up Vine’s thoughtful, songlike style. Modestly alluring music, well played and recorded.
— Gary Lemco