This is the third volume in a terrific Toccata series dedicated
to American composer Phillip Ramey's piano music. The dates
in the album title are slightly misleading, seemingly implying
that this disc brings the coverage up to date: all it means
instead is that the earliest work in this volume was begun in
1960 and the latest finished in 2010. Thus volume 2 was subtitled
and volume 1 "1961-2003" (review).
A fourth and possibly final volume (for now, at least) is scheduled
for release in 2012.
This very well stocked CD sees the return of Stephen Gosling,
after Mirian Conti's interim on volume 2. Gosling's fascinating
recital consists of three major works - the Suite, Sonata no.6
and the Slavic Rhapsody - and a number of shorter, but not necessarily
slight, pieces, a pattern that mirrors the earlier volumes.
All are premiere recordings, made in the presence of the composer.
Though many of Ramey's titles seem to hark back to the 19th
century, his music is decidedly modernistic: his Bagatelle on
'Dies Irae', for example, is no Bagatelle and a long way from
Liszt in terms of tonality. As has been remarked elsewhere,
Ramey's music is located very much in the soundscapes of Prokofiev
rhythmically - it comes as no surprise to find that Ramey published
a biography of the great Russian in the 1970s - and his teacher
Alexander Tcherepnin and even Nikolai Roslavets harmonically.
Though he knew virtually all the big fish in 20th century American
music - Copland, Barber, Bernstein and Schuman - there is little
in his compositions that might be thought 'American'. The closest
he gets on this disc is in the deliberately pompous Burlesque-Paraphrase
on a Theme of Stephen Foster.
In other works Ramey dips into exotic-sounding modes like the
mysterious Locrian of Djebel Bani and the bluesy Lydian of Blue
Phantom. The dramatic, multifarious Suite, dedicated to Tcherepnin,
is a substantial work of ten idea-packed movements, perhaps
one of the most compelling works to carry this title in the
20th century. And as far as Piano Sonatas of the 21st
century go, Ramey's materially dense, often thunderous no.6
is surely as original as any. Though tonality and melody are
tangential at best in these works, Ramey's ability to write
thought-provoking, even awe-inspiring music gives this disc
wider appeal than might otherwise be expected. This is intellectual
writing, but not without considerable emotional communicativeness,
and sometimes Ramey will surprise with the sudden appearance
of, say, a gentle Bach-Satie hybrid like the 'Hymn à la Russe'
movement of the Suite. Factor in Sheffield-born Gosling's expressive,
nuanced pianism, necessarily coupled at times with outstanding
virtuosity - the Slavic Rhapsody is a good wheat-from-chaff
sorter - and this CD commends itself at the very least to all
students and admirers of 20th century piano music.
Recording quality is very good. The booklet has excellent detail,
even including musical examples, and is well written by Benjamin
Folkman. Roll on volume 4, and the Third and Seventh Sonatas.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk