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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Tobias PICKER (born 1954)
Keys to the City (1982)a
And Suddenly Itís Evening (1994)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1999)b
Jeremy Denk (piano)a; Paul Watkins (cello)b
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Sanderling
Recorded: Studio 5, Moscow State Broadcasting and Recording House, February-April 2002
CHANDOS CHAN 10039 [62:11]



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Some ten years ago, Virgin released a disc entirely devoted to some of the early works by Tobias Picker, then in his late thirties and already with a considerable body of superbly crafted music behind him. My impression then was of a gifted composer happy to write in a fairly traditional manner and of well written and colourful music of great appeal often bringing Copland to mind. The present release provides for a fair survey of Pickerís progress over the years. The earliest work here was composed before any of the ones featured in the Virgin disc whereas the others are fairly recent.

Keys to the City, actually Pickerís second piano concerto, was composed as the result of a competition, the prize being a commission for a work celebrating the centenary of the Brooklyn Bridge. The resulting work is a colourful, jazzy kaleidoscope vividly evoking a big cityís life. Though fairly rhapsodic, the musicís structure is nevertheless tightened by the opening gesture, constantly restated, albeit in variations, throughout the piece. This motif also appears as the "stomping bass line of the boogie-woogie cadenza". This playful, unashamedly popular music (in the best meaning of the word) may bring Gershwin to mind, but is quite typical of Pickerís effusions.

Listening to Suddenly Itís Evening, composed twelve years later, makes it clear that Picker has progressed in the intervening years, i.e. stylistically speaking. The music retains its fluency and ready appeal, but has become more contrapuntal, as is evident in the first movement in which instrumental groups move at various speeds over the steady pulse set by the orchestral piano. It is also somewhat more dissonant, and the overall impact is sometimes like Charles Ives. The final section of the first movement is crisper and more neatly delineated. The second movement is a miniature violin concerto (the composerís words) of great lyrical beauty. However, the fluid violin part is often contradicted and disrupted by timpani strokes and some nervous rhythmic interjections. The final movement resembles a stately dance in moderate tempo redolent of Stravinskyís Danses Concertantes (just to give an idea of what the music sounds like). Though it was written for young players (as a joint commission from a consortium of youth orchestras), the music is by no means easy and must have challenged the young players for whom it was written. A beautiful work that has become a favourite of mine.

Pickerís Cello Concerto, commissioned by the BBC and first performed at a Proms concert in 2001, had a somewhat complicated genesis. It is an in-depth reworking of an early suite for cello and piano, of which two movements began life as songs. The predominantly lyrical, song-like outer movements actually betray their vocal origin. The concerto is laid-out into four movements, in fact two contrasted Scherzos framed by songs-without-words. So, the first movement is based on a setting of a poem of e.e. cummings; and is, as already mentioned, a song without words. The first Scherzo Brief journey is a fast moving piece of virtuoso writing whereas the second scherzo (actually a reworking of the third movement of And Suddenly Itís Evening) presents its original material in a somewhat different light. The final movement Lament, originated in a song on a poem by W.S. Merwin, is a deeply-felt and quite moving elegy of great beauty. This major work amply shows how far Pickerís style and emotional reach has travelled over the years. (In the meantime he has composed a full length opera Thérèse Raquin after Zola, available on Chandos CHAN 9659, which I have not heard so far.)

Pickerís is now a distinguished voice in American music, and the present release is a timely and most welcome addition to his discography, and an excellent survey of his stylistic evolution as well. Immaculate and dedicated playing on both soloistsí part. The Russian orchestra play this unfamiliar music as if they had known it all their lives. Recording and production are up to Chandosís best. This release provides for the best possible introduction to Pickerís superbly crafted and highly communicative music.

Hubert Culot



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