Vladimir Stoupel / John Whitney

The Life of the Machines

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EDA's The Life of the Machines (called "Live of the Machines" on the CD's label printing) is an interesting and ambitious program of "mechanistic" piano music composed between 1916 and 1948. Pianist Vladimir Stoupel, based in France, is a frequent participant in the New York Philharmonic's chamber music concerts, Bargemusic performances, the Helsinki Festival, and other internationally based music events. He has recorded the complete piano music of Schoenberg and Scriabin and, with violist Thomas Selditz, the complete music for viola and piano of Henri Vieuxtemps. All of these works have been recorded before except for the Wladislaw Szpilman; most famous as the historical subject of Roman Polanski's film The Pianist (2002), the suite The Life of Machines (1935) is a rare and early example of Szpilman, who composed hundreds of pop songs, delving into the realm of the ultra-modern.

EDA's recording is excellent, and despite the existence of viable alternatives to these selections, when it comes to this shadowy end of the modern repertoire, the more the merrier. While Stoupel's interpretations of all these works are strong, the Mosolov and Antheil items stand out as especially so. Antheil's late Piano Sonata No. 4 (1948) really isn't in his "mechanistic" idiom, though in a superficial sense may sound so as he borrows from his own Airplane Sonata as a kind of germ for its thematic content. The sonata is a Los Angeles piece par excellence, and Stoupel's more metronomic reading misses a bit of the boogie-woogie feel that permeates the first movement, but taken on its own is a strong conception in itself. One of the strengths in this recital is its sense of separateness; Stoupel does not play these works quite the way others have done, and there is a sense of homogeneity to the collection as a whole.

Copy editing of the booklet note seems to have been a major problem with this issue; at least one sentence of the text is lacking its ending, and the book is peppered with little errors such as references to Honegger's Pacific 213, Avery Fischer Hall, and the like. Antheil's Death of the Machines is actually titled only "Death of Machine," though this is a common error; however, any perusal of the booklet in this CD will find plenty of uncommon kinds of errors. That is a pity, as Frank Harders-Wuthenow and Andreas Wehrmayer's liner notes, while indulging in some questionable details here and there, are useful and informative in other ways.

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