PICKER (b.1954) Four Etudes for Ursula (1996) [15:04] Old and Lost Rivers (1986) [5:05] Three Pieces for Piano (1990) [9:30] Where the Rivers Go (1995) [5:39] …when soft voices die… (1977) [14:52] The Blue Hula (1990) [2:12] Keys to the City (1983) [19:09]
Oppens (piano), Tobias Picker (2nd piano in Keys
to the City)
rec. 11–12 September and 24–26 October 2007, American Academy of Arts and Letters,
New York. DDD WERGO WER66952 [72:09]
Tobias Picker is probably thought of as an operatic composer – he
has written four. The most recent is An American Tragedy,
after the novel by Theodore Dreiser, commissioned by the
Metropolitan Opera and premièred there in
December 2005. George Stevens’s
1951 film A Place in the Sun, starring Montgomery
Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters, is based on
the same story. Picker has also written much concert music,
including a Cello Concerto which was commissioned
by the BBC for Paul Watkins and premièred
by him at the 2001 Proms. It has been recorded by Watkins
on Chandos CHAN
10039 coupled with Keys to the City.
disk contains all of Picker’s music for solo piano and
makes a fascinating, and interesting, introduction to the
The Etudes are
very exciting and satisfying pieces. They never do what
you expect them to. The music travels far and wide, and
not just across the keyboard, in its search to entertain.
These are not light pieces. They are very serious, but
they are very approachable. There’s a slight hint of that
wonderful, but unfairly neglected, composer Frederic Rzewski
in the fast pieces. Don’t let that worry you – after all,
Rzewski is one of the most exciting and interesting composers
for the piano at work today. These pieces are certainly
not derivative - I merely seek to give an impression of
and Lost Rivers takes its
title from a road sign on Highway 10 in Texas which read ‘Old
and Lost Rivers’ which signified the tributaries of the
Trinity River. It was written as an orchestral piece
for the Houston Symphony. This piano version was created
shortly after the première as a birthday present for Ursula Oppens.
It is a nocturne of great beauty and romantic sumptuousness. The Houston Symphony, under Christoph Eschenbach, has recorded
the orchestral version on Virgin Classics (CD VC 7 91162-2).
Pieces were written for Peter Serkin and are truly
virtuoso pieces. The outer pieces are fast and relentless.
The middle piece, the longest of the set - playing for
seven minutes as opposed to the 58 and 90 seconds of
the others - is another haunting nocturne but with a
freer sense of where it has come from and where it is
going. It is perhaps more a nightmare–scape than a peaceful
nocturne. Where the Rivers Go is a romantic concert
study, full of the tang of salt water, and very Medtner–like.
Despite its short playing time it feels to be a very
big piece indeed, saying much within its small time-frame.
soft voices die… was written
whilst Picker was studying with Elliot Carter. During
composition Picker’s German grandmother died and the
work is dedicated to her memory. It’s a bold fantasy
utilizing big gestures, much filigree work and elusive
themes and harmonies. Like his teacher’s Night Fantasies,
which was written at exactly the same time, it’s a difficult
listen, making many demands on the listener, not least
the severe language used. It’s well worth persevering
with it for it has great depth - a stature of granite,
yet a heart of gold.
you’d guess from the title The Blue Hula is a dance,
with jazzy inflections, and a nice line in angularity.
Again I was reminded of Rzewski in a more unbridled moment.
It’s over in a trice and makes a marvellous foil for the
seriousness of what precedes and follows it.
to the City was commissioned
to celebrate the centenary of the Brooklyn Bridge. It
appeared as Picker’s 2nd Piano Concerto.
This version for two pianos was made at the same time.
It’s a tersely argued one movement work, and is very
exciting and engaging. I don’t feel anything specifically
New York about the music – although towards the end there’s
suddenly one of those piano rushes which reminded me
of Rhapsody in Blue - nice homage if indeed intended!
is a super disk and one which shows a fine young composer
working with material which can easily be understood by
his audience. It’s also a welcome reminder of just what
a fine pianist Ursula Oppens is. Production values are
high. The recorded sound is rich and full, with a real
concert hall perspective on the piano(s). The notes are
very full and most interesting. Don’t miss this man Picker,
he’s a significant talent.
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