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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Orli Shaham, American Grace, Piano Music from Steven Mackey, John Adams

What is percolating in the worlds of pomo-minimal-postminimal piano music gets illumination and lift from pianist Orli Shaham's American Grace (Canary Classics 11). Composer Steven Mackay weighs in with two world premier works, the formidable "Stumble to Grace", a major five-movement piece for Shaham and the Los Angeles Philharmonic under David Robertson, plus a miniature piano work, "Sneaky March". John Adams shows his mettle with a very lucid and invigorating "Hallelujah Junction" for two pianos (Ms. Shaham and Jon Kimura Parker), plus his own piano miniature "China Gates".

"Stumble to Grace" has musical depth with modern tonality, propulsive power and lyric charm, channeling Stravinsky and Milhaud a bit perhaps in the references to "jazz" but otherwise standing on its own as music of evocation, with brilliant orchestral scoring and a piano solo part that has great poeticism and demands a fine interpretive brilliance from Ms. Shaham. We surely get that. All of that.

"Hallelujah Junction" combines moving minimalist thrust with through-composed, horizontal syntax that is very contemporary but also has a slight touch of American vernacular that makes it very much a work of our space and time. The two pianos interlock contrapuntally in a maze of forward movement.

The music has exemplary qualities and the performances shine. Ms. Shaham has arrived with a bang-up flourish. This is music not to miss!

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