Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b.1957) Butterflying– Piano Music
Tamara-Anna Cislowska (piano) Elena Kats-Chernin (piano)
rec. 10-12 Aug 2015, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Centre, Sydney ABC CLASSICS 481 2625 [64:17 + 63:38]
Whatever Tamara-Anna Cislowska does rewards attention and listening time. My
most recent encounter came with her account of the complete piano music of
Peter Sculthorpe for ABC Classics (review).
She has explored the unfashionable end of the Australian piano music
and worked with fellow Australian Geoffrey Tozer on the Chandos CD of the
Rawsthorne piano concertos (review).
As for Elena Kats-Chernin, those in the UK already know at least one piece
by her. Not so many years ago her enchanting Eliza Aria from the
ballet Wild Swans became the far-from-background signature tune to
a commercial for Lloyds-TSB. As Zane Turner said in his
review of Kats-Chernin's ABC Classics orchestral collection: once heard
never forgotten. Her music was also used at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games
and the 2003 Rugby World Cup. She is a distinguished and successful
ABC assure us that this two CD set is the first major survey of the piano
music of Elena Kats-Chernin. Her childhood in Uzbekistan brought her into
contact with the piano which in her words became her ‘best friend’. The
album includes 14 world premiere recordings out of 31 tracks. Most of the
pieces are short - not much longer than three minutes. The longest are
Vocalise and Schubert Blues at 10 minutes and 12 minutes
respectively. Their dates are from 1963 to 2015. Most however were written
in the 2000s.
This is not tough or thorny material. You could play this and listen
attentively - as you should - or you could listen and enjoy in the
background although the writing and the performances will draw you in at
different points to concentrate on the specifics. We start with
Butterflying with its warm and incessant speed and its Rachmaninovian
touches. Afterwards is all contented tiredness while the stuttered
and sauntering Conversation also sports some splintery impacts.
Russian Rag is a Scott Joplin echo but with Russian overtones. It’s a
companion to the happy fast tempo Russian Toccata. For Richard
voices rising passion above a tense-pregnant ostinato. There's a similarity
to Nyman here.
All Things Conspire comes across as a calming floral blessing. As
Eliza Aria, its April shower ostinato is already famous but in this
version it feel more lulling than charmingly balletic. The Japanese garden
Bach evocation that is The Rain Puzzle is followed by Vocalise
with its trembling piano textures and a melody that rises, slowly attaining
confidence. Lullaby for Nick is the earliest piece here (1963) and
reflects the composer's memories of a Russian childhood. It was much liked
by her youngest son, Nick. Waltz of Things Past is a reverie that
touches on the worlds of Satie and Ravel. Cinema is a shard
reflecting her work on a film about Chaplin impersonators. Marcato
is based on a chattering movement from Kats-Chernin's concerto for saxophone
quartet and orchestra while the Valentino-inspired Slicked Back Tango
is completely in 1930s tango style. Blue Tears is a slowly
incessant piece based on water. Autumn has arpeggios of falling
leaves with Russian melancholia woven in. Autumn is the composer's favourite
time of year. Black Tie comes across as a stiff backboned waltz but
with a romantic flourish from time to time.
The second disc opens with Dance of the Paper Umbrellas, written
following a visit to a hospital leukaemia ward. The image conjured is of a
cake adorned with miniature paper umbrellas all in music-box motion.
Scherzino has, it seems, been described as "Bach at the discoth�que"
but I don’t get the disco reference at all; that probably says more about me
than about the music. It has some headily dark currents and eddies and
stands out in this company. Blue Silence: again the composer is in
her element with this meditatively hypnotic music. It was written following
one of the composer's sons being diagnosed as schizophrenic. Zerno
is another chiming and flowing essay while Play Properly is brief
and witty with a contrast between piano playing errors on one hand and skill
on the other.
The slow, contented, chiming waltz that is Adrift recalls the
potent atmosphere of the central movement of Rachmaninov's Symphonic
Dances. After the delicate Naive Waltz comes the introspective
Chorale, which is something of a melancholic blank wall. Schubert
Blues is notable for its otherworldly flinty notes contrasted with a
deep-tolling bass. The Rain Puzzle: Many Hands Remix takes
us back to the composer's hallmark phasing liquid effects - delightful.
Finally we come to the three- movement Sunshine Journal with a
nervy fast attack Allegro. It is very exciting and jazzy in the
manner of the first movement of Walton's Sinfonia Concertante. The
slow Devotion movement is relaxed and not commanding in any obvious
way. The final Travel movement is also very exciting with reports
from hitting the piano woodwork. It's all very aggressive and a good way to
end this often slow-pulsed recital.
The smart booklet includes brief profiles of each work by the composer plus
a general essay by her as well as an artist bio for Cislowska.
Many of the pieces here are most emotively taken by Cislowska. Others are
skilfully presented in versions for piano four hands with the composer
resuming a long-standing friendship and collaboration in performances which,
we are told, are half-composed, half-improvised.
Elena Kats-Chernin is here stylishly and presumably authoritatively profiled
in her piano music. This is chimingly liquid and memorably melodic music.
Butterflying Afterwards * Conversation *
Russian Rag in A minor * For Richard * All Things
Conspire Eliza Aria * The Rain Puzzle
Vocalise Lullaby for Nick * Waltz of Things Past
Cinema Marcato * Slicked Back Tango *
Blue Tears Autumn Black Tie Dance of the Paper Umbrellas * Scherzino * Blue
Silence Zerno * Play Properly Russian
Toccata * Adrift Naive Waltz Chorale
Schubert Blues The Rain Puzzle: Many Hands Remix *
Sunshine Journal (three excerpts) * * denotes piano four hands