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To Keep the Dark Away
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Widmung (arr. Franz Liszt, S566) [4:34]
Judith SHATIN (b.1949)
To Keep the Dark Away [11:48]
Fantasy on St. Cecilia [20:03]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet - Ten pieces for Piano, Op.75: Nos 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 [15:16]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Ballade of the Flying Dutchman (arr. Liszt, S441) [5:56]
Tristan and Isolde - Liebestod (arr. Liszt, S447) [7:12]
Gayle Martin (piano)
rec. September and December 2015, Octaven Audio, Yonkers, NY
RAVELLO RR7937 [64:38]

Gayle Martin has constructed an unusual programme that sets the music of Judith Shatin amidst that of Liszt and Prokofiev. The Liszt is hyphenated. The arrangement of Schumann’s Widmung is played with sensitivity though it’s somewhat slow. The two Wagner transcriptions are the Flying Dutchman Ballade, which is thoughtfully voiced, and Isolde’s Liebestod, which rather lacks tonal allure. Martin plays half of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet: Ten Pieces for Piano, Op.75 and catches something of its laconic and expressive elements.

Since Ravello’s documentation is pretty exiguous and only very briefly mentions the music, the listener is left to his or her own devices – unless, for example, an internet search is considered advisable. There one will find more about Shatin and her two piano works. To Keep The Dark Away was commissioned for Martin and sets the poetry of Emily Dickinson, a favourite of the composer, pianist and indeed the commissioner. Composed “during a dark period” when Shatin was suffering health problems, the five movements - all spare and compressed, none lasting more than two-and-a-half-minutes – offer interesting sonic responses. Delicacy in A Glee Possesseth Me soon leads to a more loquacious fusillade of pianistic ideas whereas the incessant, toccata-like drama of An Actual Suffering Strengthens emphasises the inability to escape the repeated patterns of hurt, notably in the bass region. This element is transformed in The Auroral Light where the bass line becomes a force for almost Bach-like echoes, augmented by right-hand tracery. The dabs and daubs and trills of the final piece, Whose Spokes A Dizzy Music Makes are painterly in their effect – specks, colours, fragments, that reveal a very personal response to Dickinson’s own highly secretive and allusive language.

The other Shatin cycle is Fantasy on St Cecilia, which is cast on a bigger span, the three movements lasting some 20 minutes in total. This is another Shatin arrangement – it derives from her piano concerto The Passion of St Cecilia (again you wouldn’t know this from the sparse notes) – which was commissioned and premiered by Martin. There are some coruscating outbursts in this rather Schoenbergian piece, its density becoming decidedly unsettling at points. The movement from antagonism through spiritual journey to eventual death but spiritual triumph is the foundation of the structure. Certainly the finale is tensile, dramatic and unremitting. It’s a rather unyielding work, easier to admire than to like.

Jonathan Woolf



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