Carter PANN (b 1972)
Piano Concerto (1996-97)
Deux Séjours (1994)
Dance Partita (1995)
Two Portraits of Barcelona
The Czech State Philharmonic,
Brno /José Serebrier with Barry Snyder (piano)
Recorded at the Stadion, Brno, 24-26 March
Many of the CDs that have come my way for review have featured composers
new not only to me but also, I suspect, to most of my readers. The dutiful
endurance of tedium has often resulted - but there have been some totally
unexpected delights: and this is undoubtedly one of them.
Not yet 30, pianist-composer Carter Pann has already carved out for himself
a distinctive niche in the confused whirligig of contemporary music. Says
conductor José Serebrier: 'From the hundreds of scores I receive yearly,
Carter Pann's [stand] out for their boldness and outrageousness'; and having
heard this disc, I at once concur with the conductor's enthusiasm.
First, those who won't approve can read this paragraph and, having got to
the end of it (if not before), quickly turn elsewhere. It will not appeal
to those who: a) feel that classical music must always provide a 'serious'
experience; b) are devotees of the (fading?) Boulez/Stockhausen/Birtwistle
schools of thought; c) regard angst and the addressing of the 'crisis
of humanity' question as essential prerequisites for a worthwhile composition;
and d) think that absurd titles are guarantees of profound invention.
Without doubt, the disc will appeal to those who, like myself, readily
respond to contemporary music which: a) is unashamedly tonal (though spiced
with occasional outbursts of atonal mayhem); b) indulges in pastiche; c)
invites you to 'spot the original' (it contains innumerable quotes from other
composers - some at once evident, others tantalisingly clouded or otherwise
distorted); d) speaks in a totally individual voice, and is superbly crafted.
Then there's that elusive, rare quality of humour in music (Dohnanyi's
Variations on a Nursery Tune, Maxwell Davies's Mavis in Las Vegas
are among the few successful essays in the field): in some of these pieces
there's almost a laugh a minute.
Not the least attractive feature of the disc is the accompanying note from
the composer: mischievously comprehensible, it is light-years away from the
usual contorted guff we get from 'serious' composers. So, Piña
Colada, the first of the Piano Concerto's five movements 'is a pop tune
nearing a state of drunken redundance'. Your Touch, the third movement,
is 'a smokey lounge-piece for solo piano'. The Concert finale (preceded
by a brief but delicious Blues) is an absolute riot: here I spotted,
amongst others, Mozart, Beethoven and Prokofiev, not to mention a hilarious
snatch from the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique
Symphony: all intended, I guess, to be the ultimate send-up of 'the big piano
The very different Dance Partita is no less attractive: the composer's
gift for pastiche is even more evident. It consists of four contrasted dances
punctuated by witty baroque ritornelli (à la Respighi).
The Folk Dance features echoes of Copland (Rodeo), Bernstein
(Candide), and Grainger (?), and Scottish reels. Pas
d'éclectique, the last dance, is dominated by an obsession with
phrases from the finales of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and Emperor
Concerto, but contains much else besides. Pann's quaint orchestration
is a source of wonder and joy throughout; and he is also a master of surprise,
usually throwaway, endings.
Deux Séjours portrays two small towns in France: they are straight
imitations of Debussy's orchestrations of Satie's Gymnopédies.
The first of Two Portraits of Barcelona depicts Gaudi's cathedral
('a gnarly wicked picture', says the composer, with justification: Debussy's
La Cathédrale Engloutie is there somewhere). The Bullfight
mingles sparkily handled clichés of Spanish music with themes from
Carmen and Ravel's La Valse (a work which appears, incidentally,
elsewhere on the disc).
To quote Serebrier again: ' ... what could be considered derivative musical
ideas at first hearing, or even imitative, on further acquaintance appear
well-planned, distilled through the composer's special voice'.
This CD is an amazing original: if taken up by Classic FM it will
prove to be a chart-topper. It's brilliantly performed and well recorded
(though the piano is a little too forward for my taste). Full-price value
at Naxos bargain rates - a snip!