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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

John Burge, Twenty-Four Preludes For Solo Piano, Philip Chiu

Canadian composer John Burge gives to us a finely woven tonal carpet with his Twenty-Four Preludes for Solo Piano (Centrediscs 27319). The cycle of major and minor key centers and their ordering follows that of Chopin's op. 28 Preludes, with one for each of the possibilities in identical sequence.

The more primally tonal preludes to be heard in the set are at times subjected to extended techniques, including inside-the-piano plucking and strumming, overtone reverberation, etc. There are sophisticated Modernisms to be heard that follow and add to the legacy of earlier tonal Modernists, but also set forth cascading post-Romantic blissful barrages and minimalist romps. Nothing is predictable and the surprises sound better every time out.

Burge in this overarching set gives truth to the adage that you can be tonal, Modern and aurally advanced at the same time, provided you can connect your internal dots in highly inventive ways.

Many of the preludes include a descriptive title, either for the sort of musical passage that it promises, or other times as a programmatic allusion. A sampling gives you an idea of what the composer is after so I list a few: "Bells in Winter," "Playground Games," "Linear Reverberations," "The Singing Clock," "One-Note Ostinato" and "Spring Thaw."

Pianist Philip Chiu has the technique as well as the poetic drive to turn the score into living magic and of course that is what all the best sets of preludes require. Each individual prelude in this set is a mini-gem and Chiu coaxes out the implications for some piano music that is as exciting as it is learned, as vibrant as it is well-wrought.

John Burge shows himself to be a genuine force in New Music with this set. I highly recommend it if you look for something new yet tradition-spanning. There is no mistaking this; it is Modern, yet it also assimilates and synthesizes the pianism of the prelude form over time while remaining original. Beautiful job from all concerned.

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