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Carter PANN (b 1972)
Piano Concerto (1996-97)
Deux Séjours (1994)
Dance Partita (1995)
Two Portraits of Barcelona (1994)
The Czech State Philharmonic, Brno /José Serebrier with Barry Snyder (piano)
Recorded at the Stadion, Brno, 24-26 March 1999
NAXOS 8.559043 [66:31]
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Many of the CDs that have come my way for review have featured composers new not only to me but also, I suspect, to most of my readers. The dutiful endurance of tedium has often resulted - but there have been some totally unexpected delights: and this is undoubtedly one of them.

Not yet 30, pianist-composer Carter Pann has already carved out for himself a distinctive niche in the confused whirligig of contemporary music. Says conductor José Serebrier: 'From the hundreds of scores I receive yearly, Carter Pann's [stand] out for their boldness and outrageousness'; and having heard this disc, I at once concur with the conductor's enthusiasm.

First, those who won't approve can read this paragraph and, having got to the end of it (if not before), quickly turn elsewhere. It will not appeal to those who: a) feel that classical music must always provide a 'serious' experience; b) are devotees of the (fading?) Boulez/Stockhausen/Birtwistle schools of thought; c) regard angst and the addressing of the 'crisis of humanity' question as essential prerequisites for a worthwhile composition; and d) think that absurd titles are guarantees of profound invention.

Without doubt, the disc will appeal to those who, like myself, readily respond to contemporary music which: a) is unashamedly tonal (though spiced with occasional outbursts of atonal mayhem); b) indulges in pastiche; c) invites you to 'spot the original' (it contains innumerable quotes from other composers - some at once evident, others tantalisingly clouded or otherwise distorted); d) speaks in a totally individual voice, and is superbly crafted. Then there's that elusive, rare quality of humour in music (Dohnanyi's Variations on a Nursery Tune, Maxwell Davies's Mavis in Las Vegas are among the few successful essays in the field): in some of these pieces there's almost a laugh a minute.

Not the least attractive feature of the disc is the accompanying note from the composer: mischievously comprehensible, it is light-years away from the usual contorted guff we get from 'serious' composers. So, Piña Colada, the first of the Piano Concerto's five movements 'is a pop tune nearing a state of drunken redundance'. Your Touch, the third movement, is 'a smokey lounge-piece for solo piano'. The Concert finale (preceded by a brief but delicious Blues) is an absolute riot: here I spotted, amongst others, Mozart, Beethoven and Prokofiev, not to mention a hilarious snatch from the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony: all intended, I guess, to be the ultimate send-up of 'the big piano concerto'.

The very different Dance Partita is no less attractive: the composer's gift for pastiche is even more evident. It consists of four contrasted dances punctuated by witty baroque ritornelli (à la Respighi). The Folk Dance features echoes of Copland (Rodeo), Bernstein (Candide), and Grainger (?), and Scottish reels. Pas d'éclectique, the last dance, is dominated by an obsession with phrases from the finales of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and Emperor Concerto, but contains much else besides. Pann's quaint orchestration is a source of wonder and joy throughout; and he is also a master of surprise, usually throwaway, endings.

Deux Séjours portrays two small towns in France: they are straight imitations of Debussy's orchestrations of Satie's Gymnopédies. The first of Two Portraits of Barcelona depicts Gaudi's cathedral ('a gnarly wicked picture', says the composer, with justification: Debussy's La Cathédrale Engloutie is there somewhere). The Bullfight mingles sparkily handled clichés of Spanish music with themes from Carmen and Ravel's La Valse (a work which appears, incidentally, elsewhere on the disc).

To quote Serebrier again: ' ... what could be considered derivative musical ideas at first hearing, or even imitative, on further acquaintance appear well-planned, distilled through the composer's special voice'.

This CD is an amazing original: if taken up by Classic FM it will prove to be a chart-topper. It's brilliantly performed and well recorded (though the piano is a little too forward for my taste). Full-price value at Naxos bargain rates - a snip!

Adrian Smith

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