Calefax / Ivo Janssen

Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano

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Conlon Nancarrow chose the player piano as the vehicle for his compositions because, when he was writing in the mid twentieth century, human performers simply weren't capable of executing them. Much to his amazement, toward the end of the composer's life, he discovered that instrumental technique had progressed to the point that at least some of his Studies were being performed, largely due to the efforts of pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, who played some himself and arranged others for Ensemble Modern. Since the 1980s, Nancarrow's music has continued to be arranged for and performed by a variety of instrumental combinations, and it has the durability and appeal to amaze and delight in the diverse guises in which it's possible to experience it now. Raaf Hekkama, of the Calefax Reed Quintet, has arranged an assortment of the Studies, plus three of Nancarrow's pieces for conventional piano, for the quintet and piano. The members of the ensemble play a variety of instruments, including oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet bassethorn, alto and soprano saxophones, and bassoon, and the distinctive combination creates an exceptionally pleasant blend and an attractive variety of tonal colors. These are nimble arrangements that capture the antic (or mellow) spirit of the originals. The Studies selected include a fair number of the slower ones, which lend themselves to negotiation by human players; No. 6, a languid, jazzy, quirkily rocking reverie, is among Nancarrow's most inspired inventions. Even at its simplest, though, this music requires extraordinary virtuosity, and the Calefax Quintet and pianist Ivo Janssen deliver bracing and assured performances. The CD should be of strong interest to fans of Nancarrow and of vibrant performances of new music. MDG's sound is clean, lively, and natural.

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