Steffen Schleiermacher

Enfants Terribles

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Steffen Schliermacher's obsession with the musical outsider has taken him through the Russian avant-garde as well as a previous volume of Americans in his ruthless uncovering of works both bravely visionary and subversive. Here, he uses his worldview to interpret the work of post-Cageian composers; all but one was born after 1940. In alphabetical order, the bad boys are Tom Johnson, Sven Ake Johansson, Nicolaus Richter De Vroe, Schliermacher himself, and John Zorn. Interestingly enough, this recording feels more like an apology than a celebration of these men who have consciously flown in the face of all that music has held dear. Take Zorn's "Carny": Of the pieces he's written specifically for the piano, this one is easily the most conventional and tonal. It contains hints of three entwining melodies appropriate much in style and gesture to classical music. One has to love its humor and imagination if not it's rigorousness. In Johnson's brief "Tango," from 1989, his use of dynamics in deconstructing the dance and turning it into a musical dead end has humor and warmth, but hardly the adventurousness one would expect from an enfant terrible! Again, there is a construction-like quality in the repetition of De Vroe's mauling of the mazurka, but didn't the minimalists already do this? The most interesting work here is Schlierermacher's own "Klavier & Klavier," from 1996. Two sets -- from two pianos -- of simple prelude figures are turned over and under each other for 15 minutes. It's an amazing feat of concentration and dexterity, but musically -- even when the piece extends to involve the fugues and harmonic changes -- it seems more like a trick than a composition, and one could hear Rachmaninov chortling at its acrobatics. Apparently Schliermacher only wanted the listener to hear the angelic side of the bad boys, rather than the cranky revolutionary side. Too bad.

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