Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Bernard Rands: Piano Music 1960-2010
Piano Music (1960-2010)
Ursula Oppens, Robert Levin, piano
By presenting a selection of piano works spanning 40 years, Bridge makes it easy to hear how Bernard Rands matured as a composer, from strict serialist to a more intuitive (albeit still non-tonal) style.
The release opens with his 1960 composition, "Tre Espressioni." This is an early work, and to my ears, the pointillist atonality sounds a little to academic and emotionless. "Espressione IV," written just four years later for two pianos seems more fully developed. In this case, the two pianos start off with completely contrasting material and gradually work towards a confluence by the end.
In "Memo 5," composed in 1975, I thought I could detect a little bit of humor amid the disjunct tone clusters and rapid passage work. According to the liner notes, Rands wrote it to express his displeasure with "PPP -- pretty piano pieces." His displeasure is made quite clear.
The largest work on the album is Rands' 2007 "Preludes." This collection of 12 preludes was dedicated to composer and pianist Robert D. Levin, and the first letter of each prelude spells out his name (Ricecare, Ostinato, Bordone, Elegia, Ritornello, Toccata, etc.). Collectively, the set has a greater range of musical expression than the earlier pieces on the album. Some are just as spiky as "Tre Espressioni," but the writing seems more sophisticated and authentic, somehow. Some of the preludes are even somewhat lyrical (but never sentimental).
"Impromptu," finished in 2010 concludes the program in a satisfying fashion. In contrast to the opening work, the contour is smoother, the dissonance less aggressive, and the overall tone more amiable. To me, it sounded like Rands had completely internalized his compositional process, and the work had a naturalness to it that the early piano pieces lacked.
Ursula Oppens and Robert Leven do excellent work bringing Rands music to life. The technical requirements are steep, but both artists never lose sight of the overarching musical organization of the works.