Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Three Recordings of the Year 2022 #1 "Invasion"

An end of the year compendium of my listening and recommendations for 3 recordings I enjoyed this year. I have been more involved in buying used LPs to relive my youth as a classical music crazed kid, so new purchases are rare. Doing these one at a time, so here is #1.

Ukrainian born pianist, Grammy winner and friend of mine, Nadia Shpachenko watched helplessly (on her birthday, no less) as her homeland was invaded, with many killed and cultural institutions destroyed and looted. As a musician, what better way to express her grief than to record an album, immerse herself in music. 

"Invasion" (Reference Recordings FR-749) features world premiere recordings of the music of Lewis Spratlan, especially noting his chamber work, "Invasion" written in March 2022 as the war was raging. Scored for piano, mandolin, alto saxophone, horn, trombone, and percussion, the work is nothing but gripping, powerful and exceptionally colorful, using the unusual combination of instruments to full effect. Sums up in 12 short minutes the horror and insanity of war. 

Spratlan's other contributions were written before the Ukrainian invasion, but still evoke our experience as humans, our reactions, the feeling of displacement and hope for triumph. 

"Six Rags" (2018) is a journey through New England landscapes where the composer lived and worked. How do New England rags relate to Ukraine? Said best by Kati Prusenko who reflected on the work in the album notes. "... Who is a person? How does she interact with the magical world around her?..." This artist is seeing the magical nature of her home turned to waste. As she finishes "And if this connection to man and nature is broken, then both man and nature suffer." 

"Two Sonatas" (2021) are meant to be performed together. The first evokes Scarlatti's sonatas, the second titled "Gentle" is invaded by the aggressive presto music of the 1st Sonata. 

The three movements of "Piano Suite #1 (2021) are similar in concept to a baroque suite. However, instead of dance, it reveals different feelings and emotions. A lot of color and expression in 13 minutes. 

"Wonderer," (2005) was in no way initially reflective of the current situation in Ukraine. Programmatic in nature, "Wonderer" reflects the current experience of many Ukrainian people, especially those displaced. The unnamed hero encounters the unknown, facing obstacles, displacement, and grief, takes some time reminisce about better times. Our hero ultimately triumphs at the end, very appropriate way to close the CD as the Ukrainian people have suffered, but persevered. This fine work is a major 21-minute-long tone poem for solo piano. Hopefully the exposure on this disc will launch it into the repertoire. 

Shpachenko commissioned Ukrainian artists to create artwork to use in the album booklet, and in an online gallery, expressing their responses to the music. The booklet is alone worth the price of the CD, not only for the artwork but the excellent notes on each piece. 

Bonus, the proceeds from this recording will be donated to Ukrainian relief and humanitarian organizations! Well done!

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