Koch's The Eleventh Finger with pianist Jenny Lin literally hits the ground running -- the disc starts and the listener is cast into the maelstrom that is Arthur Kampela's Nosturnos -- super-fast, hair-trigger precise, racing fingers rolling around an "impossible" ostinato. Brace yourselves, as The Eleventh Finger is like a thrill ride for musical adventurers, listeners who are not afraid to take the plunge into the unknown. All but two of the works on The Eleventh Finger do not date back much more than a decade ago, and of the composers perhaps György Ligeti would likely be the only name immediately familiar to even hardcore listeners of contemporary music.
Hold on though, this is not just another small-label compilation of contemporary works by people with no connection to one another that you haven't heard of and wish you hadn't. This is a showcase for Jenny Lin, a pianist whose more historically centered programs are noted for their intelligence and brilliant versatility. This program of contemporary music embodies the same incisive qualities that Lin has brought to her earlier recordings. These composers are names you should know -- Claude Vivier, deceased Canadian post-modernist, is represented by his hammering, motoric Shiraz; Elliott Sharp is known as a "downtown" New York composer who also leads the underground rock band Carbon, is heard in an assured, wildly colorful computer-processed piano piece entitled Suberrebus. James Tenney is that genuine rarity, an American institution whom no one seems to have heard about, and his piece Chromatic Canon is a multi-hand work played by Lin alone, which in some way is the most challenging and dangerous music on the disc, one achieved only with immense difficulty. All of the pieces on The Eleventh Finger throw down the gauntlet, with the listener obliged to pick up the challenge that each work proposes. The difference here is that all of the music offers rewards in return for one's bravery, rather than reasserting the yucky academic dogma of that "our music is better than you, whether you know it or not." Nor is it mere fumbling around in the dark for something original to say; all of the pieces are substantive and revelatory, and Lin's playing of them is nothing less than superhuman.
Koch's recording quality is fantastic -- there is a sense of dimensionality within the piano that is captured with fidelity and clarity one can't even imagine until it is heard. Those who insist that classical music is dead and has nowhere to go stylistically haven't encountered Jenny Lin nor the composers on The Eleventh Finger; others, who wonder what happened to the sense of adventure in contemporary music, will not be able to take to it out of the disc drive. The Eleventh Finger is a fantastic disc and is especially suitable for youthful, unafraid listeners looking for classical music that's in your face and takes no prisoners.