Phillip RAMEY (b.1939)

Piano Music - Volume Three: 1960-2010
Suite (1960-63/1988) [21:08]
Two Short Pieces (1967) [3:47]
Toccata Giocosa (1966) [1:50]
Slavic Rhapsody (The Novgorod Kremlin at Night) (2009-10) [13:25]
Burlesque-Paraphrase on a Theme of Stephen Foster (1990) [3:56]
Bagatelle on 'Dies Irae' (2010) [2:44]
Djebel Bani (A Saharan Meditation) (2009) [7:04]
Blue Phantom (2008) [2:23]
Piano Sonata no.6 (Sonata-Fantasia) (2008) [22:04]
Stephen Gosling (piano)
rec. Patrych Sound Studios, Bronx, New York, 7-10 May 2010. DDD

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 "1966-2007" (review) 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 Nikolai 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 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.

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Commends itself at the very least to all students and admirers of 20th century piano music.