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CD Review

Baroque Conversations

David Greilsammer, piano
Sony 8869-79296-2 64:20
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This is a most unusual disc, not just because it mixes Baroque with contemporary music, but because of the often challenging nature of the contemporary works presented. There's more Baroque than modern here though: each contemporary work here is bracketed by two Baroque pieces to create a program of four sets of three pieces each. Thus, we get the pianist's idea of a conversation between Baroque and modern.

The serene, elegant and often effervescent Gavotte et six doubles by Rameau leads off the album and is followed by Morton Feldman's quiet, static and puzzling offering, Piano Piece. You could hardly imagine a greater contrast between two keyboard works. Greilsammer turns in a splendid performance of the Rameau and an appropriately ponderous and understated reading of the Feldman. Soler's D Major Sonata sparkles brilliantly in Greilsammer's hands to complete set one.

Couperin's serene Les Barricades mystérieuses begins the second set and here again Greilsammer offers a sensitive, subtly nuanced version of this lovely piece. Hold on to your seat for the next piece, Whaam! I would say this isn't a conversation in this instance, but a shouting match. Actually, Porat's work is humorous and playful and meant to be a bit jarring (try the jazzy boisterous ending), and once again you could hardly imagine greater contrast from the previous work. Whaam! contains a fair measure of quiet, ponderous music, which sets up inner contrasts of its own. By the way, this piece inspired the colorful cartoonish art work found inside this disc's casing and on the back of the album booklet. The elegant Handel Suite in D minor closes the second set and sounds especially well-behaved coming on the heels of Whaam!

Froberger's Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher is appropriately funereal and stately in Greilsammer's hands and the ensuing Sahar work, Aux murailles rougies, with its prepared-piano effects, maintains the dark mood but with music of rather colorless stasis. Gibbons' Lord Salisbury's Pavan and Galliard comes as a relief, despite the deliberate pacing and solemn character of the Pavan. The Galliard is bright and energetic, and throughout the whole piece Greilsammer is subtle and finds all manner of nuanced shadings.

Frescobaldi's tranquil and serene Toccata attava di durezze e ligature also gets a sensitive performance from Greilsammer, as does Sweelinck's Mein junges Leben hat ein End, a work of similar character. In between we hear Wiegenmusik by Helmut Lachenmann, without doubt the most highly regarded living composer on this disc. The work is ponderous with spastic squeaks in the upper register, and the end result is interesting though puzzling.

Pianist Greilsammer certainly turns in fine work in the various Baroque compositions, and without doubt he is a convincing advocate for the contemporary music presented here. Does he succeed in erecting a bridge from the Baroque to the modern with these so-called conversations? No, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy the music on this disc. Most buyers will be interested in the earlier music and they certainly won't be disappointed with the performances. Sony's sound is vivid and the commentary in the album booklet by Greilsammer, as well as composers Porat and Sahar, is most informative.

Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings