David DEL TREDICI (b. 1937)
Gotham Glory - Piano Works Vol. 1
Aeolian Ballade (version for piano) (2008) [13:05]
Ballad in Lavender (2004) [14:05]
Ballad in Yellow (after Garcia Lorca) (1997) [5:18]
S/M Ballade (2006) [12:13]
Gotham Glory (Four Scenes of New York City) (2004)
West Village Morning (Prelude) [3:42]
Museum Piece (Fugue) [9:51]
Missing Towers (Perpetual Canon) [4:15]
Wollman Rink (Grand Fantasy on The Skaters' Waltz) [17:06]
Marc Peloquin (piano)
rec. November-December 2009, L. Brown Recording Inc., New York, USA
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559680 [79:35]
The Eloquence reissue of David Del Tredici’s highly entertaining Final Alice made it on to my shortlist of picks for 2008, but was elbowed out at the last minute (review). Quirky, clever, knowing and endlessly fascinating it must be one of the composer’s defining pieces. After focusing so much on vocal works, Del Tredici has returned to the piano, the cheekily titled Gotham Glory the first in a projected series of recordings for Naxos. As for pianist Marc Peloquin, he appears to be a proselytizer and educator as well, making him an ideal candidate for contemporary rep such as this.
First, some misgivings. I’m wary of the label ‘neo-Romantic’, which is all too often used to describe music that’s essentially tonal but ultimately anodyne. My suspicions were confirmed by recordings of works by Gordon Getty and Cristian Carrara, whose recent CDs fit this unflattering description rather well. Second, reading Del Tredici’s blunt, semi-technical blurb about the music performed made me wonder if, despite the programmes, there was anything more to this music than a string of formal gestures. And third, the Naxos piano sound tends to be somewhat variable; would this one be any different?
According to the composer the Aeolian Ballade is an ‘elaborately developed prelude and fugue’. First impressions are mixed; there’s little ‘aching sweetness’ in this rather secco little piece, and the close recording is somewhat dry as well. That said, there’s just enough invention - and fine playing - to keep one engaged to the very end. So, not quite the thin gruel I was dreading, but not particularly nourishing either. Happily, that changes with the Ballade in Lavender; an ‘elaborate introduction with cadenza’ it has the flowing, lyrical impulse missing from the first piece. Clearly Peloquin is up to the work’s technical demands, and I found myself warming to the alternating severity and rhapsodic nature of this music.
The thaw continues with the Ballad in Yellow, a transcription of Del Tredici’s earlier vocal setting of a Lorca poem. The guitar-like flourishes and melodic swirls are most beautifully done, the work’s warm heart beating with real strength and ardour. This is the most alluring item so far, and the most unashamedly Romantic, with none of the steeliness heard - or, more accurately, sensed - in the opener. After that one might expect the S/M Ballade - described as ‘pianistic terror’ - to be more about pain than pleasure. It flirts with both, a musicus interruptus that takes one to the very edge and back again. That said, there’s an unexpected - and gentle - vein of lyricism here as well, which makes for a piece of strange and compelling contrasts.
The S/M Ballade reminds me of the Del Tredici of old, a quirky and provocative talent with an eye - and ear - for Carrollian absurdities. Very different from Gotham Glory, his affectionate homage to New York, also the model for Batman’s home city; or is it? West Village Morning is as open-harted and easygoing as this collection gets, but there’s no denying the subversive wit behind the Baroque formality and filigree of Museum Piece. No tribute to this metropolis would be complete without a reference to 9/11, so in Missing Towers Del Tredici obliges with a piece of surpassing tenderness and gravity. Irrepressible as ever, he concludes with a musical portrait of the well-known Wollman Rink in Central Park; it’s a rambling fantasy on Waldteufel’s The Skaters’ Waltz that appears to end with a multiple pile-up on the ice.
This review started off on a somewhat chilly note - and it could be said to end on one - but a sudden and unexpected thaw had me listening to this disc several times in the space of a few hours. The playing is very impressive indeed, and although the piano sound is too close for my tastes it’s not at all fatiguing. This is David Del Tredici after all, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to be surprised.
Mellow and mischievous; an unexpected treat.
Mellow and mischievous; an unexpected treat.