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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Frederic RZEWSKI (b.1938)
Four pieces (1977) [32:57]
Hard Cuts (2011) [19:25]
The Housewife's Lament (1980) [9:53]
Ralph van Raat (piano)
Arnold Marinissen (percussion)
rec. Sweelinckzaal, Amsterdam; Vredenburg Leeuwenberghkerk, Utrecht, Netherlands, 2013
NAXOS 8.559759 [62:13]

This is my third encounter with this consistently fascinating and innovative composer. I first came to know him through a disc of his most well known work The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Bridge 9392) (it is also recorded by the pianist on this disc, Ralph van Raat on Naxos 8.559360). It's a staggering tour de force and a modern equivalent to Beethovens Diabelli variations. Then I reviewed Naxos 8.559760 with his three works for piano Fantasia, Second Hand (or Alone at Last) and De Profundis for speaking pianist all of which confirm that he is a composer of amazing originality. The present disc is further evidence of this.

As usual it is not music that can be classed as easy listening but it is hugely rewarding the more you hear it. It is interesting to read in the insert notes that Rzewski is reticent about describing himself as a composer. He prefers to call himself a musician first and foremost, then if pressed a pianist and only if pressed further still will he admit to being a composer. Since his main and overriding aim is communicating his ideas one could say whats in a name? or the medium is the massage. There is always an element of protest in his music against dictatorship and injustice which I find particularly appealing. Since the Four pieces were conceived as a sequel to The People United... there are Andean rhythms within them that link the two works. This work also has a life of its own and there are some wonderfully mellifluous moments as well as those involving angry crashing chords. The first movement hints at the Chilean connection before dissolving into a shattering chaos in which the melodies are bludgeoned into fragments. The second movement is full of jazzy syncopated rhythms while the third is full of a plangent lyricism that finishes with thunderous chords. The final movement weaves the folk song from the Andes into a fabric that incorporates the melodious along with the downright angry. It begins and ends with a single note sustained with the pedal.

Hard Cuts can easily be interpreted as referring to and protesting against the swingeing budget cuts that have affected the arts worldwide since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2007. The form of the work is also cut into pieces in which differing tempos and textures meet head-on. It is the first of Rzewskis works that I have heard that involves instruments other than the piano. It whets my appetite to hear more as it is quite clear that he is as much a craftsman with any instruments he deals with. Looking at the photo of the ensemble Lunapark (the Dutch for amusement park) in the insert I counted seventeen musicians. When I investigated the listed website, I discovered that they had changed their name to Lunatree and comprise only eight musicians.

The final work on the disc is a set of variations based upon the anonymously written song The Housewifes Lament from around 1850. Again this is a work that has the thread of protest in it, this time concerning the womans oft-enforced role as drudge. The original has a text taken from a womans diary in which she bitterly describes her thankless task as domestic slave. There are plenty of swings between the tonal and the atonal. You also hear both Beethovenian influences and those from the blues suggesting a link between slaves and the housewife. This is another altogether innovative composition that, in keeping with his other works, defines the music of Rzewski. He seeks constantly to break new ground even where the underlying themes are broadly similar.

As I said at the outset the more you listen to this disc or, indeed, any of Rzewski's music the more satisfying it becomes. It is certainly a different musical world from that which most of us are used to but entering it is thoroughly fascinating and worthwhile. The fact that Rzewski wrote Hard Cuts for both pianist Ralph van Raat and Lunapark tells you of his opinion as to their artistry. On the evidence of this disc one cannot help concurring.

this refers to the title of Marshall McLuhans famous treatise on the media The Medium is the Message that came back from the typesetters in one edition mistakenly printed with the word Massage rather than Message but that McLuhan exclaimed he didnt want altering exclaiming  'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!'

Steve Arloff