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Culture Notable CDs
What's striking about these pieces for two pianos is that they don't sound as if they're being performed by four hands. So add the ability to make twice as much sound like "once as much" to the reasons for marveling at Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Poulenc, and Milhaud (and the ability to keep the unity luminously intact to the reasons for admiring the Baylor University piano-faculty members Bolen and De Vries). Not that there's no duality: the "Les Six" French pieces and the Eastern European Romanticism sound, appropriately, worlds apart.
Schnittke: Symphony No. 9/Raskatov: Nunc dimittis
Composed in 1997, after paralysis had rendered his notation "shaky . . . and not always decipherable," Alfred Schnittke's Symphony No. 9 might have lain dormant for longer than the nine years it did if not for Alexander Raskatov, who "reconstructed" the score at the request of Schnittke's widow. The result confirms Mrs. Schnittke's assertion that the work was her husband's "musical testament," its arresting otherworldliness no doubt attributable in part to Schnittke's proximity to the eternity in which he believed.
Music from Raritan River
The guitar has been associated for so long now with both electricity and rock 'n' roll that it's easy to overlook the existence, let alone the efforts, of anyone composing for or performing on the acoustic guitar. This album (subtitled "World Premiere Recordings of New American Music"), which despite the richness of its skillfully and sharply etched portraiture suggests the mere tip of an iceberg, will have overlookers asking themselves what else they may have been missing after thinking they'd heard it all in John Fahey and Leo Kottke.
These "seven linked pieces" "based on vocal fragments by Guillaume Dufay" serve not only as an introduction to the music of the popular 15th-century composer but also as an example of how electronic settings usually associated with New Age music or progressive rock can bridge even the most daunting generation gaps. Purists will debate the extent to which Ambrose Field's new wineskins do justice to Dufay's old wine as distilled to its vocal essence by the tenor John Potter. Pink Floyd fans will have fond flashbacks of Laserium.
Due to the perennial popularity of Cat Stevens' recording of "Morning Has Broken," it's easy to forget that the song's melody, "Bunessan" (named for a Scottish village near which it was composed in the 19th century by Mary MacDonald), originally accompanied a Christmas carol ("Child in a Manger"), that "Morning Has Broken" was originally a hymn, and that as "This Day God Gives Me," "Always and Ever," and "God of the Ages, History's Maker" it lives on as such.
For scope and inventiveness, however, no previous "Bunessan" adaptation beats that of Ariel Gilley. With God of the Ages (JRI), the Korean-born pianist has developed the melody into a five-movement, 57-minute "programmatic piano piece," the "length and complexity [of which are] meant," according to Gilley, "to suggest God's character and work." They do. They also suggest that, as with Blake's grain of sand, an unexplored and fascinating world sometimes lies hidden beneath the surface of what we think we already know.