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Carl VINE (b.1954)
The Piano Music: 1990-2006

Piano Sonata No.1 (1990) [15:31]
Piano Sonata No.2 (1998) [20:41]
Five Bagatelles (1995) [8:50]
Red Blues (1999) [4:46]
The Anne Landa Preludes (2006) [24:00]
Michael Kieran-Harvey (piano)
rec. 20 May 2004, Studio 200, ABC (Sonata No.1); 10 February 1999, Newcastle Conservatorium (Sonata No.2); 10-11 May 2006, City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney
TALL POPPIES TP190 [74:15]

I’ve had as many ‘wow!’ moments with the Australian Tall Poppies label as any other in recent times, and this new collection of piano works by Carl Vine goes right to the top of the heap – I’m only sorry that the Musicweb-International ‘Discs of the Year 2006’ listings have already been completed: this would be a very strong contender for inclusion.
Carl Vine is one of Australia’s leading composers, having established himself with music for dance, a great deal of chamber music, and currently with seven symphonies to his name. If being asked to write music for the closing ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (the ‘Sydney 2000’ presentation) isn’t some kind of recognition as a composer, then I don’t know what is.
There is an impressive, irreversible strength to the work on this disc. Piano Sonata No.1 begins quietly, with block chords which have a hint of Messiaen in them, soon broadening out with thematic developments and layers of texture which crystallize into music of driving rhythm and virtuosity, played with unparalleled magnificence by Michael Kieran-Harvey. The first time I played this recording I had to stop listening for a while just to spend some time assimilating what I had heard, so overwhelming was the experience. Wow!
Just as Vine is reluctant to offer detailed explanations of the compositional processes involved, I find it hard to put the dead hand of analytical comment on this recording. I think it is however safe to say that this music is more than accessible – being the modern equivalent of (for instance) some of the sonatas of Prokofiev, but without the gruff Russianness. Piano Sonata No.2 comes hard on the heals of No.1, which was written for Michael Kieran-Harvey and helped win him the Ivo Pogorelich International Piano Competition. While the first sonata has appeared on Tall Poppies before this a new recording: the present recording of the second sonata has already appeared on TP120, Carl Vine’s Chamber Music Vol. 2 (see review).
Like the first sonata, the second is divided into two sections, but has a more ordered structure. The first movement has a rhapsodic, pianistic restlessness, the left hand constantly providing a harmonic landscape over which melodic flights are allowed to develop. The second half of the movement evolves into a slow ground bass over which the melodic right hand is given bell-like sonorities. The second movement immediately introduces a jazzier character, the bass almost breaking into a fast boogie-woogie at some stages. The logic of this material dictates a slower central section in which the ‘dreamier’ side of the material can be explored, the closing passages recapitulating the character of the opening, to a spectacular climax.
Five Bagatelles is a diverse collection of small piano pieces which grew around the fifth ‘Threnody’ movement, a quiet, meditative memorial for innocent victims, written as a solution for the composer’s dilemma at what to play at the Australian AIDS Trust. The pieces are generally lighter in ‘heft’ than with the sonata content, but have moments of great beauty, and grand jazzy fun. Red Blues is a set of four short pieces written as instructional music for students. The jazz-fun element is prominent as you might expect, and I can imagine many students finding their technical demands quite a high hurdle to leap – they’re certainly beyond my feeble abilities.
The most recent works on this CD, The Anne Landa Preludes, were commissioned by John Sharpe as a memorial to Anne Landa, whose contribution as a patron of the arts and  positive force behind young pianists in Australia is sorely missed since her untimely death in 2002. Knowing this context, the final Chorale of this set of pieces is quite moving. This is their world premiere recording. These pieces are intended as a successor to the Five Bagatelles, but whereas the earlier set was the result of a burst of energy, the Preludes emerged slowly, creating their own problems and questions for the composer. Each piece is given a short description, sometimes indicating some inner meaning to the music, or referring to the technical/pianistic aspects of playing which the composer is addressing. The result is a collection of contrasting works with a high level of refined compositional craft, and with the nice addition of plenty of wit and humour.
The recordings on this CD are excellent, and despite coming from a variety of session are reasonably consistent, at best being of demonstration quality – whatever that means: if I’m keen to ‘demonstrate’ new pieces to musical colleagues it is almost invariably for the musical content rather than the tonsil-rattling qualities in the sound. For its incredible music and musicianship, this is most certainly a CD which I shall be ‘demonstrating’ to the piano fraternity in The Hague and beyond.
Dominy Clements                             


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