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Friday, June 10, 2011

John Corigliano's Beautiful Piano Music, Stunningly Played by Ursula Oppens on "Winging It"

John Corigliano has proven to us all that orchestrally and operatically he has a keen sense for the dramatic, a sharp ear for what sounds well together and how it might be developed. He has a strong sense of the past and utilizes it to breathe life into present-day concert music. I don't suppose anyone would contest at this point that he is one of America's leading living composers.

But what of his chamber music? We all know composer who have excelled with the gigantism of massed forces only to falter when simple resources are at his disposal. One or two listens to Winging It (Cedille 90000 123), a recital of his solo piano music beautifully played by Ursula Oppens, will dispel any doubts on that score.

First off, Corigliano's piano pieces are written to sound well in the right hands. They all are very pianistic in conception. Second, Maestro Corigliano often engages with and channels composers/music of the past in these pieces. Either direct quotations or allusions to masters Stravinsky, Ives, Beethoven, and others are heard in many of the pieces. He transforms in each case the musical material to his own idiosyncratic ends. Third, and most importantly, the results are very personal, very original, and very challenging-rewarding to the musical ear of the listener.

All five pieces on the disk are magnificent examples of the pianistic arts. They are played with dynamic verve and soaring mastery by Ms. Oppens (joined ably by Jerome Lowenthal on the two-piano works). Here we have almost an embarrassment of musical riches. But who is complaining? This is a must-have for modern chamber classical buffs.

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