American composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski achieved international fame for The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1975), a set of 36 variations for piano on the song El pueblo unido jamás será vencido; this highly varied and imaginative work remains the best introduction to his music. However, Rzewski has written other keyboard pieces that display fresh ideas and further extend the capabilities of the pianist. This Naxos album by pianist Robert Satterlee offers three of Rzewski's innovative compositions, the second version of his Fantasia (1989-1999), Second Hand, or Alone at Last (Six Novelettes for piano, left hand, 2005), and De Profundis, for speaking pianist (1992). While the Fantasia is restricted to the keyboard, and Second Hand is concerned with virtuosic techniques for the left-hand, De Profundis is a dramatic setting of Oscar Wilde's eponymous essay, where the pianist not only must play the keyboard, but recite the text as notated, breathe rhythmically, sing, hum, whistle, groan, and strike the body and the piano in a shocking display of self-mortification. This half-hour work is the tour de force of the album, and the most compelling for its frightening depiction of Wilde's imprisonment in Reading Gaol and subsequent spiritual ordeals. Satterlee impresses with both his control of the piano part and his skill as a vocalist and actor, and he meets the extreme demands of the role without slipping into caricature. The recording is adequate for the piano part, but the microphone should have been closer to Satterlee in De Profundis to give him greater presence.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Second Hand, or Alone at Last, six novelettes for piano left hand|