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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Eric Craven, Pieces for Pianists Volume One, Mary Dullea


Life is short, art is long. Old words but they still ring true. Ars longa, vita brevis. And on a day like today the longness of art asserts itself in spite of how short existence might be. That is because for me it is a matter of enjoying the music of a composer I have missed until now. Eric Craven reminds us that art is long because he makes music that helps lengthen it all. I have been enjoying his album of piano music that has come out recently. It is the Volume One of his Pieces for Pianists (Metier msv 28601), written between 2017 and 2019 and very nicely performed by Mary Dullea.

This volume includes the first 25 pieces, miniatures short and very much alive with character. So in this case "art is short," but there's a bunch of it so it gets long eventually! The music is tonal, playful in ways that remind slightly of Satie without owing the least bit to him in any obvious way. The pieces revel in, if I might say this, the sheer pleasure of their sounding. It is not a music that challenges so much as it affirms itself in its singing of itself pianistically. And that owes a great deal to the pianist as well as the composer.

The CDs liners tell us that this music is as much concerned as anything with the microscience implied in the miniature, the musical equivalent to sub-atomic science. Then too the composer wants in this "to encourage and excite both a honing of technique and a quickening of the impulse toward interpretation." Hence the title we should note is "Pieces for Pianists" as much as for piano! And happily the pianist rises to the challenge and gives us the kind of poetic, interpretive readings that Maestro Craven no doubt appreciates.

As listener, we hear this and other dimensions as well, or at least I do, appreciatively. So for me there are moments that seem to refer back to old Music Hall and Jazz elements but as if through a lens, refracted. Other pieces have a reference to playfully "practicing" the piano, only not so much just in the doing as in remembering such a thing. There are elements of humor, of reflection, of reflexively evoking time well spent with the piano in days past, earlier years, formative times. So in the doing is the remembrance of the doing.

The hopefully wonderful thing about it all is that it works, that the music evokes with a bright, vivacious charm that does not try and revive some previous musical world as it takes the memory of it and makes of it a contemporary.commentary, so to speak.

In the end we have 25 miniature gems as much fun to hear as they no doubt are to play. It most certainly makes me want to hear Volume Two as soon as it comes out. Craven writes for the pianist with the care and consideration that all-but-ensures that the performances will be all one might hope for in the hands of a piano master. And so bravo Mary Dullea for coming though with infinite care and zeal. And of course bravo Eric Craven. This one is a lot of fun. Do not miss it. Hurrah!


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