Quattro Mani

Kindred Spirits

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Quattro Mani is a piano duet featuring Susan Grace and Alice Rybak; around since 1989, they have appeared on several albums already, mainly for Bridge, though none prior to Kindred Spirits has featured the artists on the front cover. The cover illustration here is based on a photo placed inside the booklet, and while the photo seems fine, the front cover illustration looks like something that might have been in style two or so decades ago. However, don't be deterred; the program consists solely of two piano works written since 1995, with most of the music written in 2004-2005. Quattro Mani: Kindred Spirits contains some of the newest "new music" one is liable to find in 2008.

Pianist and composer John Novacek is so invested in ragtime that he's even coined a term -- "Novarags" -- to elucidate the genre in which he works. Novacek's Three Rags for Two Pianos is nicely pianistic, and in the first rag, one can sense a little Zez Confrey in there, the second is a reflective movement that is similar to Luckey Roberts' slower pieces, whereas the third, "Intoxication," is a hell-bent-for-leather romp; it is a nicely balanced set. Stephen Jaffe's Cut-Time Shout features a fair amount of clapping and foot stomping in a stop-time styled groove, but he forgot to keep what was written on the keys as interesting as the other elements. Paul Lansky's It All Adds Up represents a return to writing for conventional instruments after a long and distinguished period composing for electronics. While it isn't all consistent and secure, one feels the composer of More Than Idle Chatter arriving at a sense of a rebirth in It All Adds Up; it has properties of charm and an exploratory quality akin to the restlessly seeking solos of Thelonious Monk.

The title work is by William Bland, and it is definitely a highlight. Bland's combination of jarring new music fortissimos and echt-turn of the last century parlor pianism, experienced under his own hands on a Bridge disc preceding this one remains a potent and challenging mixture. Manic Music, by composer Lance Hulme, is the best thing on Kindred Spirits; its constantly racing tempo plummets forward like a roller coaster ride, yet it always remains on the tracks in terms of its thematic statements and sense of constant propulsion. Hulme's piece is a real winner; Jed Distler's Loose Changes is good but a little less so. There are passages in Distler's 10-part suite that seem surprisingly dark and clotted for a composer noted for such transparency in his transcriptions of the works of others. Nevertheless, not a lot of Jed Distler's music has appeared on disc, and this outing does make you want to hear more.

Bridge's recording manages to be spacious, startlingly multidimensional and yet close enough to capture every note. Overall, Kindred Spirits is a superb introduction to Quattro Mani's talents and an interesting survey of currents in American contemporary music in the years following 2000.

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