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Phillip RAMEY (b. 1939)
Piano Music, Volume 2: 1966-2007

Diversions (1966) [10:16]
Epigrams, Book One (1967) [12:24]
Leningrad Rag (Mutations on Scott Joplin) (1972) [2:39]
Winter Nocturne (2003) [4:11]
Toccatas Nos. 1 and 2 (1986, 1990) [2:29; 4:21]
Ode for F.D.R. (1990) [5:27]
Piano Sonata No. 4 (1987-88) [20:35]
Primitivo (2007) [1:31]
Mirian Conti (piano)
rec. Patrych Sound Studios, Bronx, New York, 29-31 October 2007. DDD
first recordings; all made in the presence of the composer
TOCCATA TOCC0077 [64:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Ramey was born in Illinois and studied with Alexander Tcherepnin between 1959 and 1962. Later in the 1960s he worked with Copland while he was at the apex of his embrace with dissonance.

His piano music has been dealt a lucky and expert hand by Toccata; in fact two hands of which this is the second! The same company has already issued a CD of three of his sonatas and other pieces played by Stephen Gosling, TOCC 0029. This was released in 1996.

Turning now to the present disc. The Diversions are a cavalcade of angular grotesqueries. Angular they may be but they display a romantic sensibility coloured by the piano music of Bartók and Prokofiev. Indeed the final Diversion of the eight is a Homage to Prokofiev. Often sepulchral, sometimes grim, occasionally obsessive, this sequence recalls for me Mussorgsky's Pictures from an Exhibition and I wonder if that work was this work’s unstated model. The Night movement is shiningly done in a shimmer of moonlight. From a year later comes the Book 1 set of Epigrams. With its titles Calm, Sarcastic, Flowing, Declamatory this made me think of Foulds' Essays in the Modes. In fact this is music of character in which the mood is sharply chiselled with a much more wholehearted indulgence in dissonance than is found in the Diversions. The gawky Vigorous is a classic example of all-elbows fantasy. This sequence struck me as the aural equivalent of cubism. Back to a sort of cross between Kapustin, Joplin and 1960s Copland for the Leningrad Rag written for Horowitz of all people. Winter Nocturne and Ode for FDR have such a still and syrupy pulse that forward energy seems sapped and weakened. The helter-skelter shrapnel of Prokofiev returns for Toccatas Nos. 1 and 2. The Piano Sonata No. 4 is in two movements - a Monologue with Arabesques and a 14 minute Fantasy Ballade. The music is dark, clearly laid out, reflective, grand guignol and often tense-obsessive. The Primitivo is in much the same downright take-it-or-leave-it manner.

American dissonance tracing its lineage to Prokofiev and Bartók. The notes by Conti and Benjamin Folkman in fact point out that the composer can speak in long-lined lyricism as well as tangy dissonance. It makes you also want to hear his Horn Concerto (1987) and his JFK – Oration for speaker and orchestra (2007). Back to those notes again. They are lucid, full, include the details you want and, a mark of Toccata’s values, include music examples.

Rob Barnett


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