Michael Harrison

Michael Harrison: Revelation

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The 12 piano pieces on Michael Harrison's Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation may strike the inexperienced listener as a little stale-sounding, out of tune, or slightly discordant, though these peculiar qualities are central to this exploratory work and worth considering with an open mind. The use of natural tunings may make some rethink what are euphonious or pleasant intervals, and after hearing several of these short compositions, the familiar equal-tempered scale may seem bland and less expressive than the vaguely exotic and poignant sounds that Harrison discovers in these studies. Except for the rich potential of their special tuning, however, the pieces follow a rather safe course and are less interesting as music than intriguing for their abstract ideas. Moving through repeated patterns, meandering arpeggios, sonorous tremolos, and freely spun melodies that feel casual and improvisational -- rather like the extempore music that an amateur pianist might produce on a neglected upright -- Harrison's Revelation is surprisingly unadventurous in its shapes and forms; the pan-diatonic nature of his modes eventually produces a neutral harmonic palette. One yearns to hear chromatic chords of greater complexity, modulations into other tonal regions, and more variety of textures and dynamics, rather than the broad swathes of white-key sonorities with negligible bass movement that are heard here. This CD is worth checking out for its use of just intonation for expressive effect, but it is somewhat disappointing for its looseness and unimaginative minimalism.

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