Ursula Oppens

Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano

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While the title of the CD might be Winging It, Ursula Oppens has clearly spent much time honing her craft as a brilliant performer of new music: here, the music of John Corigliano. This combination is an excellent match, and it makes for an exciting album. The crashing beginning of the title track is incredibly dynamic, and Oppens shows her fire, yet it gives way to quiet shortly after. Even during the melancholy, reflective second movement, Oppens is energized and plays brightly (with a bright recording quality to complement her playing). The final movement is a jazz-like chase between hands, with some interesting chords for good measure. Brief but absolutely novel, Chiarascuro for two pianos (with Jerome Lowenthal) demonstrates Corigliano's innovative nature as a composer. It is fascinating to hear the quarter-tuned piano echo the regular one, be it in the distorted images in "Light" or in "Shadows." It is a very impressionistic piece; that is, one gets impressions of moments that create moods, rather than a linear narrative throughout the work. Most surprising is a choral passage in the piece that establishes a vague sense of tonality for a moment. The quasi-minimalist Fantasia is more than mere repetition, for Oppens carefully phrases the repetitive patterns with care and tenderness. While the listener might be tempted to think Corigliano is all art music and novelty, he or she is greeted with a hint of ragtime here and there in the Kaleidoscope for two pianos. The album concludes with the moody Etude Fantasy, which explores a variety of emotions. Any skeptics of new music should give this album a try, for Corigliano has written fairly accessible work. Both Oppens and Corigliano are extremely skilled at shifting gears, and rapidly, and this makes the album quite an energizing experience for the listener.

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