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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Judith Lang ZAIMONT (b. 1945)
Callisto: Music for Solo Piano

Sonata for Piano Solo (1999-2000) [29:51]
Nocturne-La Fin de Siècle (1979) [7:04]
Jupiter’s Moons (2000): The Moons Swim in Orbit [1:14]; Europa [3:06]; Leda [4:56]; Io [3:17]; Ganymede [2:48]; Callisto [4:50]
Hesitation Rag (1998) [5:45]
Joanne Polk, piano
Recorded at SUNY Purchase, New York, November 25-27, 2002 DDD
ALBANY TROY 617 [62:56]

 

I approached this disc with the anticipation that one might have before one’s first visit to a new restaurant that served exotic cuisine. Alas, I left the table with a bad taste in my mouth and still hungry.

Judith Lang Zaimont has a number of hefty commissions, numerous awards and an impressive pedigree on both the student and faculty sides of academia to her credit. Her name pops up frequently at conferences and she receives regular commissions, with over one hundred works in her catalogue, and a post as composition professor at the University of Minnesota, which has a rather highly regarded music school. With that, one simply has to wonder why this music is not any better than it is.

The most extensive work on this recital is the sprawling three-movement Sonata for solo piano. In an effort to be not only fair, but also diligent, I listened to this piece three times, three rather excruciating times. Although the rather sycophantic program notes tout the formal structure of this piece, I was unable to find it, and not for lack of looking. What is supposed to be a sonata is not much more than twenty-nine minutes of mind-numbing wandering up and down the keyboard, with nothing formal, melodic or harmonic, upon which to grasp and take home. Listening to it is rather akin to eating a big meal of Chinese food. You are full when you are finished, but you get hungry again really fast. At best, I found this work to pass for a second tier imitation of Keith Jarrett’s improvisations.

The Nocturne and the suite Jupiter’s Moons fare little better. For a set of pieces that are supposed to depict astral bodies, there is little that is stellar about this music. Again, with the wandering improvisations. I would never assert that music has to be tuneful to be worthy, but it is certainly necessary to have some sort of unifying gesture, either rhythmically or in the melodies to give a work a sense of cohesion. Even after overtly careful listening, I was left with a big question mark on my page of notes when I was finished.

The saving grace of this recital is the charming Hesitation Rag, which is to these ears the only memorable moment out of more than an hour’s worth of music. This is indeed a little delight, and one wonders why the composer cannot stick to discernable formal structures in her more extended works when this one is assembled so very well.

Joanne Polk is a pianist with excellent technique, and can certainly make her way around the keyboard with agility. Her color palette is broad, and she contributes much to make this music more interesting than it really is. One wonders though why a pianist of such skill would put in so much time to prepare such an unrewarding recital.

Jeffrey James contributes some rather wordy and pretentious program notes that seem to defend the music rather than describe it. Sound quality is acceptable, and the packaging is reasonably attractive. In short, this is a disc for fans of the composer.

Kevin Sutton

 

 



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