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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



The Sunpainter's Delight
Walter BAER (b.1928)
Passagen I (1996)
Passagen II (1997)
Passagen III (1998)
Erscheinungen (2000)
Sequenzen für Klavier (1968)
Zwei Klavierstücke (1968)
Andrew Zolinsky, piano
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, December 2001.
GUILD GMCD 7241 [71:13]



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The title of this disc of piano music by Swiss composer Baer and several of the pieces on it were inspired by the work of the "sunpainter" P.K. Hoenich. They are among the most impressionistic pieces on a selection which runs, in terms of influence, from Debussy and Ravel through Messiaen to the Second Viennese School and back. It is something of a stylistic melange and means that the individual pieces within supposedly related groups often seem anything but; however, the music is generally very listenable but, unfortunately, much less memorable. The earliest pieces, dating from the ’sixties, are the most "avant-garde" but hardly difficult to listen to, if requiring slightly more concentration.

The meat of the disc is, I suppose, the three sets of Passagen, each group of three pieces dating from the 1990s, although they are not represented in either forward or reverse chronological order. Interspersed with these works are the previously mentioned 1960s efforts and the most recent work, 2000s Erscheinungen (Visions), the longest single track on the CD which reminds me in places of a more energised but less disciplined Mompou; whatever, at fourteen minutes plus it comes across as a more substantial piece than most of the works here.

The composer's own notes are informative, in terms of the generation of each piece, but there is a slight hint of name dropping - admittedly, one piece is actually called Epitaph for Anton Webern (why not Le Tombeau de?) but Bach and Wagner are also name-checked, as well as the aforementioned Hoenich and Swiss religious hero Zwingli. Taken in isolation, there is no single piece here that I minded hearing. However, comparing for example with two artist programmes of mixed repertoire (Thomas Adès on EMI and Elena Riu on Linn), I found the latter just as stylistically consistent as this single composer disc, i.e. to these ears, as intimated above, I could have been listening to Webern one minute, Debussy the next. As with Adès I was juxtaposing Grieg and Nancarrow, and with Riu, Pärt and Sculthorpe. My favourite sequence here was, by far, the Passagen II, where despite the relative disparity of styles, the music appears far more urgent and communicative than elsewhere. I have been listening to a lot of piano music recently (Rzewski, Nielsen, Casella etc.) and, although I have enjoyed listening to this disc more than once, Baer can hardly be described as being among the front rank in this idiom.

Neil Horner



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