Steven Kings

John Pitts: 7 Airs & Fantasias

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The 14 movements of British composer John Pitts' Seven Airs & Fantasias are notable for their warmth and generous lyricism. Most are quietly contemplative character pieces not given to dramatic developments or contrasts. One of the airs has the title "After Satie" and the spirit, if not always the language, of Satie's quiet piano miniatures infuses more than a few of the movements. In spite of the apparent simplicity of the music's surface, it's clear that these are not casual improvisations and that Pitts has control over the structure and direction of each piece. In several, he uses a system of chord relationships he developed based on a "circle of anything-but-fifths" that he describes as "twisted harmonies," which avoids conventional harmonic resolutions but has its own idiosyncratic sense of tension and release. While they are not harmonically static, most of the pieces tend to have a "white note" sound. There is certainly dissonance in the jazz-tinged harmonies, but the repetitive structures and essentially tonal harmonic vocabulary give some of the music a gently hypnotic post-minimal effect. Changes for 20 nifty fingers, and Blue Frenzy, toccata for piano, are another story altogether. These, too, have a minimalist feeling, but of the very fast variety, and they make virtuoso demands on performer Steven Kings, who is joined in Changes by the composer. The performances of Airs & Fantasias are sensitive and nuanced and vigorously animated in Changes and Blue Frenzy. The name of Pitts' record label, Intensely Pleasant Music, is certainly an apt characterization of the works on this release. The sound is clean, clear, and present.

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