Parts to Play
I decided to review Moonkyung Lee’s mixed programme blind, listening and responding without knowing the composers’ identities beforehand.
The opening sonata’s first movement can be described as acerbic Kreisler but it seems as if the composer is tossing one idea after another at the wall to see what might stick. By contrast, the central movement is lyrical and melodically focused; but the finale’s scampering themes and sudden harmonic detours ultimately reveal Prokofiev’s hand.
The first work featuring both violin and piano begins like late Shostakovich minus the gloom. The central movement features lilting pizzicato arpeggios backing up melodies that one might describe as ‘Copland-lite’. Ditto the scherzando finale’s repeated-note gestures and dissonant jabs. Innocuous stuff; I’ve heard much better from Timo Andres. Blue Piece, on the other hand, is a mini-masterpiece laced with tangy harmonies and a heartfelt violin line that peaks in long chains of trills. Brava, Libby Larsen!
A terse and compact Grand Tarantella moves me the most when the music takes lyrical respite, where Judith Lang Zaimont relaxes and trusts her musical instincts. Whomever composed the Jilted Tango appears to deliberately restrict its material in order to get the most out of the least. It’s an undemonstrative yet quirky, unpredictable piece by Rain Worthington that grows on you with each hearing. The unaccompanied Viva basically adds up to a Latino/blues/funk encore. Lee doesn’t quite feel Michael Daugherty’s syncopated syntax, although she and pianist Martha Locker generally play splendidly throughout this well-recorded recital.
Lee saves her most varied and concentrated execution for the collection’s most substantial work. Although Bartók’s influence permeates the concluding three-movement piece, the musical ideas convey freshness, coherence and freedom from clichés. I especially like the middle movement: a haunting chorale that implies as much as it states. The work is by Benjamin Ellin, the only one of this collection’s seven composers whose name I had not previously encountered. Excuse me while I peruse his website …