‘Verbs’ is a collection of 24 Preludes for left hand only by composer Kathleen Ryan. Commissioned by her friend and colleague American pianist and Steinway Artist, Keith Porter-Snell, the unifying theme of this suite of miniatures is the idea of verbs, one for each prelude to convey an individual quality of energy and motion, with titles such as Wait, Crackle, Drift, Bloom, Murmur, Tease, Tangle and Bless.

Keith Porter-Snell

The repertoire for the left hand alone is wide, including most famously Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne, Op 9, Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand (composed for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during the First War) and studies by Godowsky and others. Many pianists use left hand studies and pieces to improve their technique (the left hand often being the weaker hand for naturally right-handed pianists); others are forced to turn to left hand repertoire for reasons of injury. After suffering a repetitive motion injury to his right hand some years ago, Keith Porter-Snell withdrew from performing to concentrate on his teaching career, while also developing an interest in left hand repertoire. He relaunched his performing career in 2006, specialising in piano music for the left hand alone.

By skillfully switching between the high and low registers of the piano and utilising full textures and bright or unexpected harmonies, Ryan creates the illusion of two hands playing. Coupled with Keith’s clean, lucid and sensitively articulated sound and the wonderfully echoey acoustic of Monkton Coombe School (where the album was recorded in May 2013), these preludes hark back to earlier antecedents by Debussy, Rachmaninov, Chopin and J S Bach in their variety and appeal, creating an album rich in contrasts. Ryan’s composing style is eclectic, referencing jazz, contemporary classical, traditional classical, and American folk songs and hymns: Play, for example, is a vibrant anthem, redolent of sacred harp singing, while other Preludes are more contemplative, tender and wistful (Forgive, Bloom).  Push is energetic and rumbling, suggesting bustling city life, Bounce scampers playfully around the keyboard with jazzy syncopations and colourful harmonies, and Tangle is redolent of some of Prokofiev’s more introspective ‘Visions Fugitives’. The album closes with the meditative Bless.

This interesting and appealing project is a celebration of left hand repertoire, a musical friendship, and the art of the Prelude and the miniature. Recommended.

‘Verbs’ is available from iTunes and other online music stores.

Meet the Artist……Keith Porter-Snell

A History of Left-Hand Piano

Kathleen Ryan’s Meet the Artist interview will be published soon.

 

 

Bach wrote his Inventions as exercises for amateurs and students of the keyboard (including his own sons), as he put it in a preface. The works were intended as an introduction to counterpoint and to demonstrate to the student that both hands could have equal importance in a piece of music.

For many young piano students, these short works are their first contact with Bach’s music and can lead, certainly in my own case, to a lifelong love of Bach’s music, in particular his keyboard music. They offer a wonderful introduction to contrapuntal writing and Bach’s musical wit and inventiveness, and offer valuable insights for further study of works such as the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Partitas and the French and English Suites. In spite of all this, these minor miracles are rarely performed in concert.

Simone Dinnerstein’s new recording for Sony Classical of the Inventions (BWV 772-786) and Sinfonias (BWV 787-801) makes a convincing case for the elevation of these works from student studies to concert pieces, for her reading is anything but dry and academic. While they may be all about form (as distinct from the Partitas and French and English Suites which are dances), Dinnerstein brings vibrant colour and life to these modest works, highlighting their individual characteristics and differences through the sensitive use of tempo, articulation and rubato. Some are sprightly and open-hearted, others introspective and thoughtful. Throughout, her tone is pure and bright, her interpretation honest and unfussy, allowing the beauty of Bach’s writing – and, at times, his modernity – to shine through. In the Sinfonias, with their three-voice writing (sometimes called “three-part inventions”), the sound is richer, more textural, warm but with no loss of clarity. The final Sinfonia, in B minor, is fleeting and witty, with the ghost of a harpsichord in the resonance and strummed sound which Dinnerstein brings to this work. No longer student exercises, Dinnerstein turns these short works into album leaves to be enjoyed and savoured.

 

Described by composer, pianist and improviser Gregg Kallor as “a love letter to this incredible city”, ‘A Single Noon’ is a pianistic hommage to New York City. It presents a tableau of life in the city through a combination of composed music and improvisation in nine evocative snapshots with titles such as ‘Straphanger’s Lurch’ and ‘Espresso Nirvana’.

Largely jazz-influenced, the music also takes inspiration from earlier American composers and musicians, such as Gershwin (in the fragmentary suggestions of the honking, dissonant New York traffic and bustling streets and cafés in ‘Broken Sentences’), and the toccata-like elements of Brubeck and Adams (most evident perhaps in ‘Espresso Nirvana’ and ‘Straphanger’s Lurch’, which was inspired by Gregg’s “stubborn refusal to hold onto the convenient handholds in the subway cars”). In slower movements, such as ‘Found’, ‘Here Now’ and ‘Giants’, there are nods to Feldman, Messiaen, Debussy and Takemitsu in both the use of chords for timbre and colour rather than strict harmonic progression, and defined, atmospheric pauses and silences, which give the music a sense of repose, and anticipation. ‘Giants’ is, by Kallor’s own admission, his personal paean to “the musical titans I have been privileged to know, and to those who came before”, who, like the imposing skycrapers of the New York skyline, cast huge shadows across the musical landscape.

The entire album resonates with the contrasting energies and vibes of the city, from the sun breaking over the park in the morning, to subway journeys and sidewalk strolls, caffeine-fuelled conversations, and mellow evenings. Played with technical assurance, dramatic flair and sensitively nuanced shadings, Kallor subtly blurs the edges between improvisation and composed sections, classical and jazz, to provide a haunting and vivid portrait of “a life in the day” of the buzzing metropolis.

‘A Single Noon’ is available on CD or to download from iTunes

Listen to a sample here

Meet the Artist……Gregg Kallor

www.greggkallor.com

Described by composer, pianist and improviser Gregg Kallor as “a love letter to this incredible city”, ‘A Single Noon’ is a pianistic hommage to New York City. It presents a tableau of life in the city through a combination of composed music and improvisation in nine evocative snapshots with titles such as ‘Straphanger’s Lurch’ and ‘Espresso Nirvana’.

Largely jazz-influenced, the music also takes inspiration from earlier American composers and musicians, such as Gershwin (in the fragmentary suggestions of the honking, dissonant New York traffic and bustling streets and cafés in ‘Broken Sentences’), and the toccata-like elements of Brubeck and Adams (most evident perhaps in ‘Espresso Nirvana’ and ‘Straphanger’s Lurch’, which was inspired by Gregg’s “stubborn refusal to hold onto the convenient handholds in the subway cars”). In slower movements, such as ‘Found’, ‘Here Now’ and ‘Giants’, there are nods to Feldman, Messiaen, Debussy and Takemitsu in both the use of chords for timbre and colour rather than strict harmonic progression, and defined, atmospheric pauses and silences, which give the music a sense of repose, and anticipation. ‘Giants’ is, by Kallor’s own admission, his personal paean to “the musical titans I have been privileged to know, and to those who came before”, who, like the imposing skycrapers of the New York skyline, cast huge shadows across the musical landscape.

The entire album resonates with the contrasting energies and vibes of the city, from the sun breaking over the park in the morning, to subway journeys and sidewalk strolls, caffeine-fuelled conversations, and mellow evenings. Played with technical assurance, dramatic flair and sensitively nuanced shadings, Kallor subtly blurs the edges between improvisation and composed sections, classical and jazz, to provide a haunting and vivid portrait of “a life in the day” of the buzzing metropolis.

‘A Single Noon’ is available on CD or to download from iTunes

Listen to a sample here

Meet the Artist……Gregg Kallor

www.greggkallor.com

Claude Debussy – Images Books I & II, Images oubliées

Toru Takemitsu – Les yeux clos, Les yeux clos II, Rain Tree Sketch, Rain Tree Sketch II

Rika Zayasu, piano

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, pianist Rika Zayasu has released a CD of two books of Images and Images oubliées, and four pieces by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.

Recorded at St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, this CD is produced and mastered by Claudio Records, using their new ‘Q-Lab Sound/192-Stereo High Definition Audio’, a technique which results in a remarkably pristine and natural quality of sound (undoubtedly helped by the fine acoustic of the recording venue and the quality Steinway instrument). CDs produced using this technique can be played on high-quality DVD-Audio equipment and Blu-Ray surround sound systems.

Rika plays with great sensitivity, displaying grace and precision in touch and use of pedal, and her understanding of Debussy’s music is clear from the range of musical shadings, nuances, colours, articulation and rhythmic vitality she brings to these works. The first Image from Book I, ‘Reflets dans l’eau’, is supple and fluid, with a rippling, luminous treble over a rich bass, which never overpowers. The oriental elements of this music (as in the other pieces in this suite) are highlighted, reminding us of Debussy’s fascination for Japonisme and eastern gamelan music. ‘Hommage à Rameau’ is haunting, stately and antique, its tempo relaxed but not dragging, so we never lose a sense of its structure, underpinned by the underlying 3-in-a-bar pulse, with some beautifully paced climaxes (again, evident in other works on the CD). ‘Mouvement’, in contrast, is sprightly and animated, with bright, joyful, bell-like sounds which continue into ‘Cloches a travers les feuilles’, in which Debussy evokes the sonorities of bells and carillons, and Far Eastern percussion. Here, there is some lovely, subtle highlighting of the internal melodic lines of this complex music. ‘Poissons d’or’ is vibrant and colourful, shimmering and characterful.

The Images oubliées are more introspective (Debussy described the pieces as “not for brilliantly lit salons … but rather conversations between the piano and oneself.”) . The ‘Lent’ is expressive and melancholy, while the ‘Sarabande’ (later reworked for the middle movement of Pour le Piano, with a few adjustments to harmony and phrasing) moves with a solemn, ancient elegance, with some lovely bright, clean fortes in the climaxes on the final page of the music. ‘Tres Vite’ is humourous, with toccata-like qualities which recall both the ‘Prelude’ and ‘Toccata’ from Pour le Piano, and ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ from Estampes.

The four pieces by Takemitsu perfectly complement the works by Debussy, and are related to them in the use of titles to stimulate the listener’s imagination. Les yeux clos (The Closed Eyes – three pieces in total) are inspired by a lithograph by the French symbolist artist Odilon Redon, which depicts a bust of a woman whose eyes are closed. It suggests a dream or inner world. Takemitsu’s music reflects this in the use of fragmented melodies over sustained pitches, with flexible durations, which freely connect to one another. Similarly, the Rain Tree Sketches were inspired by a poem by Japanese novelist, and friend to the composer, Kenzaburo Oe, which describes ‘the clever rain tree’, an ancient tree whose thousands of tiny leaves collect and store rain water, so that after the storm has passed, rain continues to fall from the tree. Precipitation is suggested through single droplets of quiet, lone sustained notes and sudden dissonant clusters of sounds, as if shaken from saturated branches.

All four pieces are played with immense control and insight. Soft, pastel-coloured sound showers and radiant trebles chime over rich bass sonorities and pedal points, while the silences are as carefully judged as the notes between them. These pieces are evocative and ethereal, their transcendental nature emphasised through the precise use of pedals, and the pianist’s ability to allow sounds to resonate and ring, or fade to nothing, which create an exquisite sense of stillness.

My Meet the Artist interview with Rika Zayasu

www.claudiorecords.com

Rika Zayasu plays Takemitsu Rain Tree Sketch II