Cornelius CARDEW (1936-1981)
Solo with Accompaniment (1964) [10:35]
Terry RILEY (b. 1935)
Keyboard Studies #2 (1965) [22:36]
Tomasz SIKORSKI (1939-1988)
Echoes II (1963) [13:09]
Christian WOLFF (b. 1934)
Tilbury 3 (1969) [8:38]
Zygmunt KRAUZE (b. 1938)
One Piano Eight Hands (1973) [8:16]
John Tilbury (piano, all except Sikorski)
Zygmunt Krauze (piano)
Szábolcs Esztényi (piano, all except Cardew)
Hubert Zemler (percussion, Cardew & Sikorski; piano, Krauze)
rec. 26 & 27 November 2015, Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw.
DUX 1288 [63:14]
At first glance this looks like a celebration of the 1930s generation who flourished in the revolutionary times of the 1960s, but there is a connection which gives these composers an even closer alliance. Daniel Muzyczuk’s booklet notes outline something called the Musical Workshop, a band started in 1963 with changeable repertoire and performers, but which had been formed through collaboration with pianist John Tilbury who was in Poland on a scholarship at the National Academy of Music. Tilbury had access to the most recent scores, and the group’s concerts “went on to shape Poles’ reception of the entire Western avant-garde.” Tilbury returned to Warsaw in 2015 and this recording is about “returning a special moment in time to the nation’s shared memory.”
Historical weight is a worthy reason for being interested in this release, but its musical content is also a joyous reminder of what contemporary music can bring to a table already groaning under its cornucopia load of Art in all its guises. Cornelius Cardew’s Solo with Accompaniment sees the combined pianistic forces of Tilbury and Krauze enhanced by subtle percussion, the atmospheric but more dynamic and sometimes angular piano sonorities smoothed by the sonic arc of bowed objects. Surprise tonality shines through at unexpected moments. If you can imagine John Cage’s prepared piano with the colourful effects of George Crumb then this might bring you a certain way towards this piece, though its origins are more “a response to Stockhausen’s Plus-minus and is based on similar concepts.” With even a smattering of an ear for the avant-garde you would never confuse this with something by Stockhausen, the title itself being perhaps a gently humorous dig at Teutonic earnestness.
Terry Riley’s brand of stylishly euphonious minimalism is nicely represented in his Keyboard Studies #2, here played by all three pianists. This is as close as one can imagine to a pianistic ‘field of sound’, and in its ostinato effects comes across as a sort of laid-back and greatly extended Ligeti Continuum. Tomasz Sikorski’s Echoes 2 comes to us from the original Musical Workshop period, and uses taped piano and percussion sounds to deliver an initially surreal space in which pianos shift position and sustained notes can increase in volume. This is maintained as the material develops and gathers and relaxes in intensity, but while the effects are straight out of your 1960s Radio Studio tape lab the piece itself retains a feel of individualist integrity. The quality of the musical gestures carries the work rather than the electronic effects, and the integration of the two results in something which works on the imagination like virtual cinemascope.
Dedicated to John Tilbury, Christian Wolff’s Tilbury 3 has time-stretching qualities like a slow Beethoven prologue, adding in intriguingly quirky resolutions – the delayed expectation of which holds a fascinating tension. This is one of those pieces that can be performed by any group of instruments, “as long as it includes a piano.” The booklet states that “this piece presents a sort of continuousness but… each moment is treated as equal to others.” I take this point, but am also intrigued as to the moments on which the ear and mind latch particular significance – giving that equality a hierarchy whether it wants to take it or not.
The booklet seems a bit condescending towards Zygmunt Krauze’s One Piano Eight Hands, describing it as “deceptively trivial” and having a “sentimental character.” Yes, valid points perhaps, but an imposition on one’s individual response. I want to decide for myself if this is sentimental; or if the transformation of the trivial is into something rich and strange. There is an intriguing further description of how this is “played by four pianists who occupy the same two chairs and fight with each other as they attempt to play snippets of sentimental ditties.” There is a haunting effect to this music, emerging as it does from an exquisitely de-tuned upright piano on which the sustain - or what we used to call the ‘loud’ - pedal is stuck down. There are no odd stage noises of actual fighting or of scuffles or creaking chairs, but the playing has a hobbling, slow, rhythmically distorted quality which might suggest some kind of interference – perhaps like the dying moments of a clockwork music box.
Presentation for this release is good, though a few more dates would have been useful. Very well recorded and performed with sincere affection and a sense of quiet joy, this is a very fine collection of rare repertoire. As Muzyczuk points out in the booklet, this is not a recording that tries to reconstruct the ‘forgotten phenomenon’ of the Musical Workshop, but is one that “serves to reaffirm… [that this was] an absolutely key period.” For me it reaffirms a multitude of reasons for retaining an enthusiasm for new music, fresh ideas, and a healthily unpretentious attitude to performance.