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Endeavour Bells: Fantasy for Piano Solo (2008) [9:30]
Nocturniana: Fantasy for Two Pianos on Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2 (2013) [10:37]
Sonatina for solo piano (1985) [7:05]
Sonatina buffa: Homage to Charlie Chaplin for piano duet (1986) [8:28]
Calypso: Fantasy for Piano Solo (2013) [8:15]
Piano Concerto No. 2, Lebenskraft (arr. two pianos) (2013) [27:04]
Tamara Smolyar (piano)
Livia Teodorescu-Ciocănea (piano)
rec. 2010, Melbourne; 2018, Bucharest

Romanian composer Livia Teodorescou-Ciocanea is given a chance by Toccata Classics; her name has had little or no prominence or attention. She is a sixty-year-old living composer. In the present case she finds her musician-advocate in Tamara Smolyar who is joined, for the two-piano or piano-duet pieces, by the composer.

The piano, across all these pieces, speaks, in substantial part, in melodic, impressionistic terms. There is also a disruptive clangourous element that is both elementally disruptive and enigmatically complementary. The sound, which presents strongly both in piano and in forte, is courtesy of engineers was taken down in Melbourne and in Bucharest.

The Endeavour Bells Fantasy has a Messiaenic accent: Messiaen in harness with Debussy. The almost Sorabjian Nocturniana is fashioned around Chopin's Nocturne op. 27 no. 2. It succumbs to Chopin's subtly perfumed romance but mixed with violence. This is not to say that there are not deft turns into swampy waters from which again emerge Chopin's ideas and treatments. These are decorated with trailing clouds of, if not glory, then certainly of spangled colours. The early Sonatina for solo piano is in two movements the first of which is an almost bluesy tripping Lento. The concluding short Con moto often, but not always, defies any connection with the preceding Lento. It's a strange Sonatina written when the composer was in her mid-twenties. The three movement Sonatina buffa - Homage to Charlie Chaplin is as much about noble qualities as about rippling disruption. On the other hand, we are not denied the expected cheeky endearments, tenderness and energy. The ‘endearments’ are often cut with dissident elements. Its swirling dissidence fits well with the Calypso Fantasy for piano solo, written almost thirty years after the Chaplin piece. The mood of the Calypso is disrupted and as well as established by this composer's gift for casting about dark nets and maelstroms of sound. This score is Messiaenic, affirmative, noble, strongly wrought and confidently cast. Time is also made for shadows and the voiles of the aurora borealis.

This composer's Second Piano Concerto is in three movements and thirty minutes. We hear it in the composer's arrangement for two pianos.  The first movement is an insistent Vivo, a movement which like all this composer's works is mercurial or mood-unstable. It is likely to morph quickly from direct speech to implication; from a melodic Lento into a towering and rumbling cumulo-nimbus that will not keep silent. A plangent and brown-study of an Adagio, looking towards central Asia precedes a sometimes galloping and sometimes cantering Con spirito finale. There’s the occasional nod towards Rachmaninov and surely unknowingly towards the piano concertos of two Malcolms: Williamson and Arnold. It ends overwhelmingly positive as you might expect from a work that bears the title Life Strength.

This composer’s music for piano is like a swiftly alternating rippling between stampede through a china shop and a breathlessly delicate examination of the finest Meissen and Satsuma. It flickers between violence and enamoured appreciation.

The helpful disc's essay is by Joel Crotty with input from the pianist.

Rob Barnett

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