* “Zoforbit: A Space Odyssey” = URMAS SISASK: The Milky Way; HOLST: The Planets; GEORGE CRUMB: Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV); DAVID LANG: Gravity – Zofo – Sono Luminus Pure Audio Blu-ray + CD DSL-92178, 69:21 (7.1 DTS-HD MA 24/96, 5.1 DTS-HD MA 24/192K, 2.0 PCM 24/192K) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This astounding album completely took me by surprise. Normally I am averse—or at least highly suspicious—of piano four-hands, but Zofo, or better yet, pianists Eva-Marie Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi knocked my socks off with this recording. First of all, who says that surround sound, and vivid surround sound at that, can’t benefit a solo piano? Believe me, with the rapturous noise that these two make, with infinite gradations of perfectly placed dynamics, you will experience the piano in a whole new way.
“Space Odyssey” might seem a little contrived and corny these days, but the program fits the concept beautifully. The centerpiece is the Holst of course, radiant, lyrical, and as spine-chilling as ever. No, there is nothing new in terms of hidden harmonies or additional clarity (that some of these types of albums like to claim) just sheer uninhibited love of playing sensational music. And as familiar as it is, The Planets really is a sensational work. The dynamics are exciting and the pacing couldn’t be better in this invigorating and exquisite reading. However, though the work was originally conceived as a one-piano four-hands piece (with the exception of “Neptune”, which was scored for organ), Zofo took it, the two-piano version, and the orchestral score into consideration when coming up their own version. It works.
Urmas Sistak is a popular Estonian composer and devoted Roman Catholic, and has created a number of sacred works. His interest in astronomy led him to create The Milky Way based on his “astro-music” system, derived by accident from the pre-existing Japanese “Kumayoshi” mode, the Japanese pentatonic scale. The work is delicate and beautiful, utilizing the inside and outside of the piano in a variety of techniques. David Lang is Musical America’s “composer of the year” and one of America’s most-played artists. His music defies categorization, but it doesn’t take anything but a willingness to listen carefully and become fully immersed in the slowly moving and always falling music of Gravity. I just wish it was longer—by the time its five minutes are up you have just begun to feel it as part of you.
George Crumb wrote any number of pieces that could be considered appropriate for a “space music” album, but none more so than his seminal effort for the piano that he called Makrokosmos in tribute to Bela Bartok’s huge opus Mikrokosmos. Celestial Mechanics, “Book IV” of his series was actually written for piano four-hands, unique among the four. Each of the four movements was named after stars, though here we get only the first two, “Alpha Centauri” and “Beta Cygni”. I must confess to feeling a little cheated because the performances are so good, and the Blu-ray would have handled the additional fifteen minutes it would take to include “Gamma Draconis” and “Delta Orionis”; but I am sure they took the CD, also included in this package, into consideration. Too bad.
This is a great album, a true surround sonic spectacular, and full of superb performances that should not be missed.