Katia and Marielle Labèque

Dessner: El Chan

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Bryce Dessner, guitarist of the rock band The National, has already gone further than most other musicians seeking to cross the rock-classical barrier, with an impressive list of collaborations with classical musicians. Here, he works with star duo piano-playing sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque. The album appears on Deutsche Grammophon, and the title work is dedicated to filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu and his wife, Maria Eladia Hagerman. It's safe to say that Dessner has made an international impact. If you haven't been following Dessner's career, this album might be a good place to start. Dessner's writing is nothing fancy, but he intelligently mixes influences from the early 20th century with minimalist sounds, adding them together in easily graspable, evocative works. It is no surprise he has titled the album El Chan, even though the work occupies just a third of the total album time. For the two pianos alone, El Chan takes inspiration from the titular spirit, said to guard a pond near González Iñárritu's home in San Miguel de Allende. It's a strong piece of post-Impressionist atmospherics, beautifully written for the two pianos; sample Pool of El Chan, depicting the pool itself. Dessner has gained critical attention mostly from the rock side so far, which is a shame. He has drawn large new audiences to classical concerts, and there is little rock influence in his classical compositions. This influence only shows up in Haven, written for a chamber group containing an electric guitar, played by Dessner himself. Even here, Dessner inclines more toward Steve Reich than toward shoegaze rock. The opening Concerto for two pianos again features fine piano writing. Although nobody would call Dessner a great orchestrator, at least not yet, the performance with the Orchestre de Paris under Mattias Pintscher is energetic and sharp. Recommended.

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