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Classical Music Review

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What Are They Doing to That Piano? (5 CD Set)


Composers: John Cage, Stephen Scott, Sidney Bailin, Matthew Durrant, Byron Petty and Gheorghe Costinescu
Label: Navona Records
Release Date: 13 January 2017

Navona Records's What Are They Doing to That Piano? is a collection of five previously released albums, packaged together. This release features composers and artists dedicated to finding the most adventurous and compelling sounds that the piano has to offer...

A word of warning. If you're looking for melodies; music to touch the soul and raise your spirits... then you won't find any of that here. However, if you're seeking musical experimentation then these 5 albums - 53 tracks (4 hr, 43 min, 46 sec) will deliver more than you could ever wish for.

What Are They Doing to That Piano? opens with the album, Sonatas And Interludes In A Landscape, composed by John Cage and performed by the Kate Boyd. Over the course of 21 tracks (1 hr, 14 min, 47 sec) Cage pretty much takes the piano apart and puts it back together.

Next up is Ice & Fire, which was first released in November 2013 and features six compositions by Stephen Scott for the Bowed Piano Ensemble, including 'Afternoon of a Fire', written for bowed piano and improvised Native American Flute in memory of a wildfire that occurred in his native Colorado. This is actually one of the collection's high points, in so much as it actually has a melody you can warm to. The album also includes experimental works that interpret the concept of drones, a piece with five miniatures for bowed piano, and Scott’s first written piece for voice and bowed piano.

Originally released on Ravello Records in May 2016, 16-2-60-N-5: Works for Electronics & Piano, by composer and pianist Sidney Bailin, shows how musical technique can exist solely to help him tell his secrets. A combination of piano and electro acoustic works, 16-2-60-N-5 transforms patterns and structures into a viscerally and emotionally gripping sound experience.

Felt, a compilation for solo piano was first released in February 2015. It presents the works of a number of composers including Matthew Durrant and Byron Petty. With each composer comes a subtly different perception of what the piano is capable, a degree of variation that presents itself repeatedly in the kaleidoscopic collection of pieces included on this release.

On An Evolving Cycle, Gheorghe Costinescu explores the manner in which keyboard idioms evolved from Baroque to 21st-Century contemporary, charting the evolution of form and technique with a deft control of style.

As I said at the start of this review, it's an album you'll either embrace or be turned off by. Those that have a love of the piano will instantly fall in love with the rich and varied sounds that each composer manages to coax out of the humble piano.


Darren Rea

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