Nadia Shpachenko

The Poetry of Places

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This release earned a U.S. Grammy award for Best Compendium in 2020. Pianist Nadia Shpachenko, who teaches at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, is a fine, brilliant pianist in the Russian school, but the album's success is probably due more to the originality of its program. Classical piano pieces have been depicting places since the 19th century and even before, but the idea has rarely received a systematic exploration in contemporary terms, as it does here. Several of the pieces have an architectural focus, with two works, by Harold Meltzer and Andrew Norman, depicting structures by Frank Lloyd Wright. Some of the pieces, including Jack Van Zandt’s Sí an Bhrú, include electronics, while Hannah Lash's Give Me Your Songs takes the unusual step of depicting a composer's home, that of Aaron Copland. James Matheson's Alone, in waters shimmering and dark is a three-movement work addressed to the moods of a small upstate New York island house, while Lewis Spratlan's Bangladesh refers to a place writ large, and Nina C. Young's Kolokol is an entirely fresh approach to the depiction of bells, in this case, those at Harvard University. Amy Beth Kirsten's h.o.p.e. is perhaps most distant from the recording's theme (it refers to an art exhibition called "The Big Hope Show"), but it's a fascinating work of heterophony involving a conventional piano, a toy piano, and, briefly, the performer's voice, and it demands to be heard. With strong engineering from Skywalker Sound in California, this is a novel and enjoyable deployment of various contemporary compositional styles across a common theme.

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