Beauty and Hope – Editions Musica Ferrum

Editions Musica Ferrum has done it again, offering a beautiful score that feels good in the hands, well made with quality paper, and full of original illustrations (by William Chajin, Elwira Pawlikowska, and Piero Pierini) that attach to remarkable compositions. Nine composers from across the globe participated in the project Beauty and Hope, coordinated by Nikolas Sideris and funded by Kickstarter. A set of program notes is forthcoming in another volume, something that will be a welcome addition.

Alquimia (Andrew Sigler) is based on a tightly-knit three-note subject. The intervals are the same as the famous BACH motif, half-step followed by a minor third, without the last note (although the composer says he did not consciously use the BACH motif). There is a not-so-faint whisper of fugal writing with subjects and countersubjects, but strict adherence to the many rules implied by this is tossed aside. Beautifully, the subject is woven into the countersubject. Perhaps this is the alchemy hinted at by its title, taking aspects of older music and fast-forward mixing it with 20th - and 21st century sensibilities. This music breathes, from the rhythmically slow and static theme, to jarring entrances at the tritone, to fast scalar passages. Gorgeous music that I hope to add to my own repertoire soon.

Urban Sprawl (Paul Poston) is noisy and full of dissonant chords, is onomatopoeic in nature. One hears traffic noises, fast-walking pedestrians, and conflict. The piece is roughly in rondo form and the main theme, additive as it cycles around each time within the A sections, appears throughout in contrary motion tearing at the texture. The piece changes meters often resulting in a dizzying effect; one never quite feels the earth beneath one’s feet when listening to it. Included are two nods to Leonard Bernstein’s Mambo from West Side Story. The middle section, “Relaxed, Free”, is written in exactly that way – spread out across the page. Its four lines of music are represented by a single pedal throughout, giving it a hazily dreamy effect.  Urban Sprawl skillfully crafted and effective.

Voices of the People (Carlos Álvarez Torno) is composed nearly with all thirds. Interestingly, there is almost no feeling for key or tonic note – quite a feat when using this interval to the exclusion of other, more dissonant possibilities. The resulting music has a bitonal feel to it but with random, ever-changing key centers. Unfortunately, there is no ear-grabbing pull towards a melody focus and one ping pongs about from upper to lower staves trying to hang onto something. The colors are fascinating and plentiful, but the lack of focus and scant rhythmic interest makes it difficult to follow.

Butterfly Fixer (Nickos Harizanos) uses an effective quarter-note driven ostinato throughout. Not only does it settle the overall rhythm into hypnotic regularity, it staples a harmonic center down for a while allowing the wildly dissonant and rhythmically complex right hand to flutter back and forth between the extremes of the piano. The harmonic colors are gorgeous throughout and the feeling of butterfly wings is palpable. However, the piece feels a bit on the long side with little change in the landscape until the last page, which finally steers us into different and slower rhythms in the right hand.

Prosthesis (Barnaby Hollington) can best be described as an interrupted toccata. The colors and technique are brilliant and fast in its oscillating main theme. This sixteenth-note theme stops abruptly in many places to make room for several measures of long-held chords, or occasionally, a SABT contrapuntal phrase. An ultimately effective piece – one that would be as gratifying to play as it is to listen to.

Puddle (Jaap Cramer) is reminiscent in several ways of the Nocturnes of Chopin. It is rough-ridden piece, with plenty of dissonance tucked away in its opening cantabile theme and it is laden with outbursts of temper, just as Chopin’s pieces are. Although without time signature, the piece most often breaks towards a gentle 5/16. The left hand patterns are often Chopinesque as well, leaning towards a single note alternating with off-beat chords. It is a highly effective work – a completely satisfying piece combining hints of Romantic-era style with highly dissonant and decorative writing.

Beyond Icarus (Scott A. Miller). The far-flung fantasia introduction provides just the right foil for the ensuing allegro. In fact, the multi-sectional work is reminiscent of centuries-old ballades or fantasies with their ever-evolving forms. The triplets that populate the second section do not cloy as Mr. Miller keeps them fresh with various treatments, both in the melody and accompaniment. The triplet figures become the connective tissue for the piece, tying together disparate styles that include chorale writing and heavy militaristic themes in its arsenal.

9-11 after (Christos Papageorgiou) is perhaps the most emotionally raw of the set. The opening page features playing clusters with the palm inside the piano with a haunting, stand-your-hair-on-end effectiveness. The following section is equally haunting but is completely heartbreaking with its gorgeous melody. Several sections of the piece is reminiscent of Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie. The piece would be best served by a pianist with large hands, though, as much of the work is in parallel octaves.

The Kids are our Future (Nikolas Sideris) is delightful with its play on and off the meter. In fact, it can be tricky to hang onto the downbeat – impossible as a listener without a score. The opening page sounds like a toy piano with the high off-beat chords. This rhythmic device appears throughout the work, albeit in completely different ways, but often enough that it is the single-most unifying feature of the work. It is a wonderful work to end the set as it is the most brightly optimistic piece of the nine.

Bravo to pianist Myrto Akrivou who recorded all nine pieces with imagination, intuitive emotion, and blazing technique.

The Score may be purchased here.

Samples of the music and CD purchase information can be found here.

YouTube video of “Voices of the People” here.

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Deborah Rambo Sinn

Deborah Rambo Sinn