I participated in National Solo Album Month this year, and I recorded a piano solo album. (Well, I programmed it, really, because I’m not good enough to tackle anything live.)
To get in a frame of mind to work on such a project, I’ve been listening to a lot of piano music. Some of it related directly to what I was writing, and some of it didn’t.
Ernesto Lecuona, The Ultimate Collection
I played Ernesto Lecuona’s "Cordoba" for a recital in my senior year of high school, and at the time, I had never heard a recording of the piece. BMG hadn’t gotten around to digging its archive for that material, so when I spotted The Ultimate Collection in the bin at the record store, I had to sate my curiosity.
It turns out I played the piece much, much, much slower than intended. My piano teacher really had me take the tempo marking to an extreme.
Lecuona isn’t the household name of other such composers as say, Sergei Rachmaninoff or Frederic Chopin, but as an early 20th Century pianist, he embraced the technology of the time to document his work. Lecuona’s pieces are virutosic and fiery, and they’re deeply rooted in Latin culture. The two-disc set is a lot to listen to in one sitting, so it’s best to pace yourself.
Erik Satie, Piano Music, Daniel Versano, Philip Entremont, piano
The "Gymnopédie No. 1" is a piece you’ve probably heard and not know you have. Most likely, you’ve heard a Muzak version in a doctor’s office or elevator.
Satie concentrated most of his compositional efforts to the piano, and the budget-priced Piano Works from the Sony Classical Essentials line provides just about all the pieces you can find on similar compilations.
The Gymnopédies, of course, are the most popular works, and their genteel simplicity gives them immediate appeal. The Gnossiene are just as introspective but contain a few more turns.
Satie also possessed a strange sense of humor. The first piece of Embryons desséchéss — or, Three dried embryos — has a coda that just doesn’t know when to quit.
Satie’s pieces don’t require the level of flash as a Rachmaninoff or Listz piece, and that can be quite appealing in its own right.
Michael Nyman, Where the Bee Sings/The Piano Concerto, Ulster Orchestra, feat. conductor: Takuo Yuasa
Michael Nyman, The Piano, Composers Cut, Vol. III, Michael Nyman Band
Michael Nyman’s score for the Jane Campion film, The Piano, is probably his biggest source of income. He’s already spun the score off into a concert suite and a piano concerto.
I don’t mind at all. I love this soundtrack. I hated the movie, though.
In fact, I rather prefer the score in its concert suite and concerto forms. The soundtrack album felt too incidental for pieces that felt more cohesive than the medium of film allows. The concerto does a marvelous job hitting on the main themes of the score, but the concert suite includes more material, including portions of the portfolio written for Holly Hunter’s character.
I do wish someone would record that portfolio, though.
The Piano, Composers Cut, Vol. III was released on Nyman’s own label, MN Records, and is not available in the United States. (I got my copy through Amazon UK.)
Glass Cage: Piano Works of Philip Glass and John Cage, Bruce Brubaker, piano
The John Cage pieces on this collection were recorded so close to the noise floor, the hiss just might win out over the piece itself.
That said, I could only get a vague sense of how the works by Cage and Philip Glass interacted. They seemed to go well.
The Glass pieces featured on this disc can also be found on Glass’ own album, Solo Piano. I haven’t heard the original recording to compare to Brubaker’s performance.
These pieces, though, aren’t as maddeningly repetitive as Glass’ ensemble work, but they still make the most out of a small set of material.