Terry RILEY (b. 1935) Etude from the Old Country [12:45]
Tango Doble Ladiado [3:11]
Half-Wolf Dances Mad In Moonlight [7:08]
Simone’s Lullaby [5:43]
G Song (1980 arr.) [9:30]
Praying Mantis Rag
Waltz for Charismas (1994 arr.) [4:32]
Cinco de Mayo [12:26]
ZOFO (Eva-Maria Zimmerman and Keisuke Nagagoshi (piano))
rec. 2014, Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia. SONO LUMINUS DSL-92189CD/BD-A [67:36]
This year sees Terry Riley’s 80th birthday, and this fine release is a superb contribution to the celebrations. Riley pioneered minimal music, of which his 1964 composition In C is a seminal work. Much water has passed under the Golden Gate Bridge since then, and the works in this programme are by no means minimalist. Riley has kept his faith in tonality however, and the music here is eminently approachable and at times great fun.
The booklet contains an interview with the ZOFO piano duet, in which they outline their long-term plan to record all of Riley’s four-hand piano pieces. Most of the pieces come from a collection called The Heaven Ladder, Book 5 for which there appear to be no dates, even on Riley’s own website. By way of preparation the duo was able to collaborate with the composer. Riley revised some of the music in advance, but musicians and composer were on a similar wavelength from the outset. He agreed to write them a short new piece, and the Praying Mantis Rag was the result.
Minimalist elements creep into the music here and there in moments of ostinato and repeated figures, but there is masses of variety in extended works such as the opener, Etude from the Old Country. Counterpoint, playful intertwining of voices and rhythmic energy come together with some magical quiet moments to create a powerful spell. Individual works are not annotated in the booklet, so we’re left to our personal responses. Jaztine is another rich tapestry of sound, by no means ‘jazzy’ as you might expect from the title, other than in the closing minutes. The bulk of the pieces is more of a monumental procession which to me has something funereal about it.
Tango Doble Ladiado is indeed a tango in both content and atmosphere, though the rhythmic ‘slips’ lead to intriguing assymmetries. The hobbling rhythms of Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight are the result of an arrangement by Keisuke Nakagoshi of a string quartet by Riley, as is G Song, both approved of and added to by Riley, “it was a joint effort…” These are both very fine, though turn out not to be my favourite pieces on the CD. Riley has his own idiom when writing for the piano, and that unique vitality and wealth of colour is somehow less present in these arrangements. Simone’s Lullaby is also an arrangement from its piano solo version, the extended range of four-handed performance creating a moving segment of devotional stillness.
Praying Mantis Rag plays to the virtuoso character of ZOFO and is filled with joyous ragtime allusions. Waltz for Charismas is another work with plenty of fizzing rhythmic liveliness, with an element of Stravinsky-esque neo-classicism holding it back from absolute abandon. The final work, Cinco de Mayo, is the piece with which ZOFO started their Terry Riley journey a few years ago. Bookending the programme as a counterweight to Etude from the Old Country this is a substantial masterpiece with great variety, but also with a vast resource of serious content. Associations are called up at times with the complexity and wit of Conlon Nancarrow though there is no likelyhood you will confuse the two. There is even some George Crumb-like activity inside the piano, damping strings to deliver haunting harmonics in the quiet central section.
Superbly recorded and immaculately performed, this is a highly desirable release from Sono Luminus. The level of my technological equipment alas didn’t permit a trial of the Blu-ray disc, which offers 5.1, 7.1 and 2.0 playback configurations. Clues from the already excellent standard stereo mix would seem to indicate this will be a real treat for up-to-date hi-fi buffs.