David DEL TREDICI (b. 1937)
Gotham Glory (2004) [34.55]
Aeolian Ballade (2008) [13.05]
Ballad in lavender (2004) [14.05]
Ballad in yellow (1997) [5.18]
S/M Ballade (2006) [12.13]
Marc Peloquin (piano)
rec. L Browning Recording, New York, 6-7 November, 14 November and 11 December 2009

David Del Tredici is probably best-known for his series of works based on Lewis Carroll. In recent years he has moved away from this neo-romantic style - of which he was one of the pioneers - into the more controversial field - in America, at least - of gay rights. His earlier works often overwhelmed the listener with the sheer joy of the sound he conjured from a large romantic orchestra. One wondered how his style would adapt to the smaller medium of the solo piano. This disc is billed as the first in a series of three which will cover the whole of the composer’s piano music.
The answer is, excellently. Del Tredici continues to write in a bold romantic style, and his sense of humour has not deserted him. There is nothing here as overwhelmingly beautiful as the Acrostic Song which brought Final Alice - not the final piece in his Alice cycle by any means, as it happens - to such a powerful conclusion. There is plenty of red meat for the performer and the listener to sink their teeth into. The S/M Ballad is described by del Tredici as a “pianistic terror”, and it is indeed clearly extremely difficult to perform; but the pianist is no sadist, and the listener does not need to be a masochist either.
The earliest piece here is the Ballad in yellow, which is actually a transcription of a song setting of Garcia Lorca. It flows along nicely, with plenty of idiomatic piano figuration, and the tune of the song is lovely. The Ballad in lavender is a more extrovert piece in which the composer quotes both from Schumann’s Kreisleriana - which he acknowledges in his booklet note. He also draws on his own beautiful Carroll setting In memory of a summer day - which he does not acknowledge. The reminiscence may be unconscious on del Tredici’s part, but it fits nicely with the Schumann.
The Aeolian Ballad is a beautiful modal piece with more than a suspicion of Vaughan Williams in the opening section. This develops into a fully-fledged prelude and fugue of much more chromatic character. It opens the disc most enticingly.
The main work on this collection consists of the ‘four scenes of New York City’ entitled Gotham glory. The first three movements comprise an atmospheric prelude entitled West Village morning, a fugue entitled Museum piece and a ‘perpetual canon’ entitled Missing towers. The latter is a lament for the terrorist attack on the New York Trade Center on 11 September 2001. The latter is a brief movement - only just over four minutes long - but it packs a lot of feeling into its short duration. It is also the only piece here which uses avant garde techniques on the piano. At the end the pianist is instructed to play directly on the strings inside the piano itself. This is a not a new invention, but only once before - in Ronald Stevenson’s Peter Grimes Fantasia - have I heard it used so effectively. The result does not sound at all like a gimmick, but produces an impression of distance which is most atmospheric.
The final movement of Gotham glory is longer than the other three movements put together, a ‘grand fantasy’ on the Skater’s waltz by Waldteufel entitled Wollman rink. Here del Tredici poses a direct challenge to Liszt’s fantasias on the music of his day, with all the bravura virtuosity that his model implies. He brings it off, nearly. There is plenty of variety, plenty of light and shade, and plenty of invention; but in the end one feels that he spoils the effect by carrying on rather too long. In the concert hall the sheer enjoyment might carry off the continual development of the theme, but on disc one finds the attention wandering after ten minutes or so. The sheer exuberance of del Tredici’s music is part of its charm, and one accepts a certain prolixity as part of the mix.
Marc Peloquin sounds understandably taxed by the sheer virtuosity of the piano writing, but he rises to the challenge and gives a series of towering performances. One looks forward with anticipation to later volumes in this series, which will presumably also include Virtuoso Alice, which is a stunning improvisation around the main theme of del Tredici’s own Acrostic Song.In the meantime this first instalment is thoroughly enjoyable. Even if you don’t think you like modern music, try this: you will be amazed.
Paul Corfield Godfrey 

see also review by Dan Morgan

A series of towering performances.