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Peter BLAUVELT (b. 1956)
Rituals
Piano Sonata No. 9 “In Windy Fields” (2002) [18:12] *
Visions (1988-1989) [13:25]**
Four Quiet Piano Pieces (2001) [13:33] ±
Rituals (1979-1982) [16:39] δ
Piano Sonata No. 3 (1980) [14:53] ε
Peter Blauvelt (piano)
rec. 12 Feb. 2003 St. Petersburg Florida*; 13 April 1991 Sarasota Florida and 12 Aug. 1995 Clearwater Florida**; 10 Nov. 2001 Gainesville Florida ±; 13 April 1991 Sarasota Florida δ; 6 Feb. 1981 Cambridge Massachusetts ε
ZIMBEL RECORDS ZR107 [76:24]

Technology has become advanced and accessible enough that many artists can release their own performances and recordings of their own works without the need for a major label. They either work with much smaller recording houses or have set up vanity labels that are used primarily as a public outlet for their work. Of these, there are quite a few discs being released lately that contain new music that would certainly see greater success if they gained more stage time. 

Peter Blauvelt, a Frenchman by birth and a German in his formative years, came to the United States to continue his studies in 1975. Since the 1980s he has been based in the Tampa area of Florida, where these performances were made. Blauvelt also has another disc through Zimbel of two symphonies and a cello sonata . On to the piano works in question … 

From the outset one can hear what for me was one of the main disappointments of the disc: the recording aesthetic is a bit compressed. Unfortunately the piano could also have benefited from a bit more fine-tuning before the recording session. This is especially evident in the Ninth Sonata that opens the disc, The performance of it is, however, tenacious. The work has an assured and confident voice. The opening theme recalls a sort of melding of Hindemith and Prokofiev — a gritty lyricism. The work is more or less arranged in the traditional manner of a piano sonata, with thematic development. The second movement takes the first theme of the first movement and carries it along in a perpetual motion interlude in octaves that cover a wide range of the keyboard. A crashing chord leads into the menacing calm of the third movement, which, as appears to be a theme with Blauvelt, are merely numbered, without tempo or playing indication. This quiet movement is particularly effective, with an overall sound that stems from the musical avant-garde composers of Russia and France — especially Lourié. The last movement moves in abrupt octaves in a fashion that brings Prokofiev immediately to mind. Blauvelt shakes this off with a section of tense quietude as elements of earlier movements and themes reappear.

Recorded eight years earlier, the Visions for Piano of 1988-89 are pensive and at times have the randomness of Berg or of Scriabin at the time of his late sonatas. The recording is rather muffled, which muddies the sound especially in the left hand, which at times moves precipitately into the lower registers. 

The Four Quiet Piano Pieces of 2001 have a certain despondency and stasis about them. Indeed, the composer mentions that these were written at a difficult time in his life. The title is a tad misleading in that the pieces, while contemplative, are not always on the piano side of the dynamic scale. These still fit quite well into the aesthetic of 1920s and 1930s avant-garde. Overall, for fans of the music of this period, these works will certainly be of interest. Of particular beauty are the Berceuse which quietly ponders its dissonances like a Mossolov nocturne, and the third piece, the Elegie, which generally keeps the left hand in the deepest area of the piano’s range, over which the right hand throws its terse chords. 

The earlier work, Rituals, is a suite of sorts, with six numbered movements, the second of which shatters the pensive mood with an obsessive rhythm and relentlessness. The third movement begins with a continually repeated note, such as with the Prokofiev Toccata, to which it bears a passing resemblance. It is less of an outgoing piece, instead being more of an exploration of various chordal changes that can be made from that main note. All of these pieces have this central focus on repetition and limited movement within a certain system. Indeed, this is surely the meaning of the title of this work, with a continual ritual obsessive quality running through each of the movements.

The closing work is the Third Piano Sonata, another relatively early work, which was also Blauvelt’s doctoral dissertation. The earliest recording here on this disc, it is also the least pleasing sonically, though again, the performance and the writing of the piece will likely have immediate appeal to general listeners. It begins rather randomly, with broken gestures covering the expanse of the keyboard before moving more viciously into the meat of the material.

Overall, we have here a well-performed anthology that should hold interest for people who are fans of the Russian and French Avant-garde of the early part of the last century. It is my wish that these see wider attention, with other performances that more clearly show the sonority of these pieces. The sound quality isn’t particularly distracting, but in listening to this disc on a high-end system, one does find oneself wishing for more.

David Blomenberg

 


 

 


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