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Friday, February 23, 2018

Jason Tad Howard, Daniel Perttu, Small Stones, Modern Piano Music, Nancy Zipay Desalvo

What do we mean right now when we say in terms of music "The Modern?" I surely must think I know. After all this blog is called Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review, right? I generally believe how a term is used in the active contemporary realm is the most instructive. So I do not especially care to assert on some abstract, peopleless level what the "Modern" is for all eternity. By nature there is a fleeting quality to it. Some people concentrate on "correct" usage, assuming that there is a valid, permanent meaning ascribed  to a word, perhaps in extremis stemming back in Biblical terms to what Adam purported to name everything in his world. I balk at such things. What at the moment we mean by "Modern" is what matters to me. And since last century it does mean a body of somethings distinct from other things.

There is the Modern Period, perhaps in musical terms everything composed from perhaps 1910 or so through to today. Then there is the "High Modern," what was most advanced and marked as "Modern" in music made between maybe 1946 to 1980? And now there is simply everything we might experience in the Contemporary New Music or mainstream Classical spheres, being known by that term simply because it has been composed in our present day. This is not an exhaustive roundup since there still is all the music composed from say 1910 on, the particulars of what that can be. My blog certainly tries to answer the question with every posting. And there is no one answer.

For the moment the present-day Modern category concerns me. That is so because today's posting covers Small Stones, Modern Piano Music (Navona 6139). It is a 32 minute EP that presents two ambitious Sonatas for piano, one by Jason Tad Howard, another by Daniel Perttu. The music is well-performed by Nancy Zipay Desalvo.

As the self-defining "Modern Piano Music" subtitle makes clear, this is "Modern" in name as well as time period. So what then is modern about it? Jason Tad Howard gives us his "Piano Sonata No. 2, Nine Short Shorts for Piano." Daniel Perttu in turn presents to us his "Sonata for Piano." Nancy Zipay Desalvo brings to both works a fine, dramatically interpretive sensibility that in no small part accounts for the success of the program.

So how, then is this Modern Music? The answer is not facile or so plainly obvious as it might be for other works we could  hear under this rubric. Both works are firmly tonal, which should surprise nobody. Both have a sort of "Neo-Expressionist" vitality to them. They sometimes remind one of those transitional pianistic voices that graced the Early Modern period, Sorabji, Ornstein, Scriabin, Ives in some passages, Alkan, Prokofiev, and so forth. The music coming as it does now warrants some kind of "Neo-" prefix. But too the music is in no way especially identical to the earlier Expressionist pianistic proponents. And that is so logically to the extent that the individual qualities of each composer reaches out to our listening ears.

The most obvious element when you first listen is to be had in Howard's Sonata. There are eight brief movements and one slightly longer end statement. The point becomes not some unified development or even variational span to my ears. Rather, each snippet builds atop what has come before, in the end forming a collection of phrasal-melodic-harmonic possibilities that relate one to another by virtue of metonymy and lengthening more so than some simple organic wholeness.

Perttu's own Sonata is a dash forward into cascades and waves of momentus sound. The individual element is no doubt the manner in which Perttu builds the expressions in seamless and dramatic ways.

This is a volume one might not expect in that the music does not easily fit into any obvious movement in Post-Modern Modernism. If you simply forget all of that the music speaks eloquently and memorably. Ms. Desalvo brings every nuance to life and convinces us that the music is very worthwhile. Small Stones will find sympathetic vibrations no doubt in anyone who responds readily to pianism of a high order. It is not music to jar you into another world of sound. It is music that has much continuity with traditional pianism from Chopin on. Yet there is something singular and winning about each Sonata. Give this one a try and see what you think. I myself am happy to hear and rehear the music.

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