Sabine Liebner

Christian Wolff: Piano Pieces

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Christian Wolff: Piano Pieces Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Christian Wolff was once the baby of the New York School, only 19 when he cast his lot with John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Earle Brown; in 2008, he is the last man standing. Solo piano music is central to Wolff's output, and on Neos' Christian Wolff: Piano Pieces, German pianist Sabine Liebner performs a nice cross section of his efforts in this medium from 1969 to 2006. It takes a pianist with some amount of insight to realize Wolff's compositions, all to some degree open ended, and he does not spell out all of the details. Liebner delivers them with a warm, expressive approach with lots of color, yet just the right amount of restraint. A standout is her reading of one of Wolff's loveliest and most characteristic creations, Snowdrop (1970); another highlight is a selection from Wolff's Keyboard Miscellany, a collection Wolff began in 1988 and in 2008 is still adding pieces to, preferring to keep its content, like his work, open ended. These pieces range from a 10-minute-long Variations on Morton Feldman's Piano Piece 1952 to a movement that lasts only 17 seconds; the latter is a departure from the rest as it is played forte and establishes a strong central theme before breaking off.

Intuition is a main component in Wolff's music, which is low key, reminiscent at times of Satie, and generally quiet and profound rather than outgoing and ostentatious. In a famous quote, Wolff's colleague Frederic Rzewski once summarized its effect, but one almost doesn't want to express its power in words too conspicuously, as it might ruin it for both listener and composer. That is indicatory of some of the pure magic in the music Christian Wolff makes; this disc makes for a very good encapsulation of his basic strengths, not to mention something that embodies a challenge, yet one can still chill out to it.

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