Tour de Force: reviews
...from American Record Guide:
This album of piano works—Preludes by Sheree Clement and Of Points Fixed and Fluid by Perry Goldstein—presents a cornucopia of sounds and feelings brought to expert, breathing life by pianist Eliza Garth. Clement’s piano preludes have titles like ‘Gently, Steadily’ and ‘Dramatically’ along with ‘Moderato’ and ‘Allegro’. Clement’s writing is direct, almost melod- ic, with touches of Gershwin as she executes an idea or parses a technique in each of these short movements. The seed at the heart of each of these movements (two dominant 7th chords in the first prelude, thirds in the 11th prelude) dictates its harmonic and tonal cen- ters, and following these free-flowing thoughts as they flourish from seeds into gestural vines is an intellectual adventure. Goldstein’s Of Points Fixed and Fluid is a 15-minute piece that begins with a theme that rumbles in the bass, full of nervous energy that suddenly finds itself in a beautiful plateau of static, soft bell-like gestures in the higher register of the piano. The piece vacillates between the two, exploring each space before revisiting the other. It’s a sonata that is not a sonata but just as satisfying. Garth’s preternatural sense of timing is on grand display in this piece: she’s given each energetic area the pace it needs to haunt and mesmerize her audience.
...[translation] from Kathodlk [Italy]:
As the title of this newest release by Albany Records promises, it is a real tour de force for the bravissima American pianist Eliza Garth. The series of thirteen preludes written by Sheree Clement over almost forty years (!) surprisingly draw a rather uniform parable, characterized by a progressive traversal beyond the boundaries of tonality to arrive at a harmonically harsh language, though not without moments of contemplative and introspective beauty. La Clement loves to work with quick figures of notes that run in very complex rhythmic passages, to be often hampered by abrupt interruptions or impervious detours. If I had to mention a reference for these works, I would summon Elliott Carter's Night Fantasies. Equally virtuosic, although very distant from the stylistic point of view, is the composition Of Points Fixed and Fluid by Perry Goldstein, an author who likes to juxtapose musical materials of a different character and style, sometimes opposite - in the manner of Stravinsky or, more recently, Fitkin -, developing them separately and then colliding them, triggering dense and tension-rich dynamics. In this case, the contrast is between a hypnotic sequence of repeated notes and a set of syncopated figures that recall jazz. The way in which Goldstein applies this technique is personal and remarkable, as demonstrated also in other previous compositions (I am thinking, for example, of the Blow saxophone quartet). In this case, the conclusion is less pacified and leaves something (deliberately) unresolved, even in the context of a precise formal design. Eliza Garth moves at ease in such diverse expressive worlds, which demonstrate the vitality of contemporary music, especially American, for piano.
...from [Q]onStage [New York}:
Pianist Eliza Garth’s latest Albany Records release, “Tour de Force,” is the perfect music for the Rites, and the Rights, of Spring. In this season of protest and forthcoming change, the album consists of music by two contemporary composers, from whom, through Garth’s hands, we get a sense of turmoil and a world to come. The first body of selections is Sheree Clement’s Piano Preludes, a series that, while written over the course of a generation, feel thematically related. These pieces range from one minute to eight, so they are piano tapas, tonal poems that resonate with sturm-und-drang and change, and each has its own wisdom. There are thirteen in all and the questions asked, and sometimes answered, are ideal for Spring listening, with the latest Nor’easter whistling at the windows. Also featured is “Of Points Fixed and Fluid,” by Perry Goldstein, which brings challenges and wisdom as well. This hero’s quest of virtuosity dazzles with the knowledge that it takes a pianist of deep skill and experience to wrest the nuanced phrases from a work of great breadth. Garth’s phrasing, nuance, dynamic expertise, and virtuosity answer the challenges posed by each of these composers, in an album where I hear echoes of the passion of the Parkland students, the turmoil of our current political situation, and the warmth of the Summer to come, all distilled in one beautifully movable feast. Download from your favorite music service or purchase the CD today for yourself or as a gift. Music always fits!
...from Textura [Ontario, Canada]:
Remarkably, Sheree Clement's thirteen preludes, which constitute the greater share of this nearly hour-long collection of solo piano music, were written sporadically between 1978 and 2006, though no one would ever guess as much given how cohesive they are when performed as a group by Eliza Garth. Though the album title could justifiably have been selected with the pianist in mind, the title in fact derives from an observation made by Clement, specifically that while the thirteen preludes are effective when performed in groupings of three or four, they're a tour de force when presented as a thirteen-part set; while there's a descriptive dimension in her word choice, there's also a qualitative one that references the extreme range the preludes encompass, from, in her own estimation, “powerful and thundering to gossamer and twinkling.”
Perry Goldstein's Of Points Fixed and Fluid, a 1995 work commissioned by Garth, forms a superb partner to Clement's in countering the preludes' concision with a single-movement setting that dynamically contains multitudes yet at the same time is complementary in many ways to Clement's. Though both are demanding works that call upon the virtuosity of the performer, Garth, a faculty member at St. Mary's College of Maryland and a contemporary music champion who's premiered many new works, proves herself up to the challenge.
The pressure-free manner by which Clement's preludes came into being probably has much to do with why they seem so cohesive. Writing them on her baby grand piano, she created them, it seems, more for herself than any potential audience or with any deadline in mind, and in the absence of such determinations the self-contained explorations gradually accumulated into a set of pieces ranging from “epigrams to torrid essays.” Clement herself surmises that if there are connections between them, thematic and otherwise, it's perhaps because in writing them she was constantly drawing from a consistent creative source.
In its meditative character, the first prelude exudes a questioning quality, as if soberly contemplating possible directions to pursue. Punctuated by aggressive chords, the livelier second perpetuates the first's explorative approach though escalates the intensity level, the music blossoming confidently following the reserved first, after which the third reestablishes a gentler and less abrasive tone whilst retaining the harmonic adventurousness of its predecessor. Appearing in turn are the quasi-hymnal fourth, the ponderous fifth, the skittish sixth, the mercurial ninth, galaxies-spanning tenth, and upwardly spiraling eleventh, all of them articulated with sensitivity by the pianist. The subtlest hint of a folk song emerges now and then in these oft-unpredictable pieces, though more as a sidelong allusion than direct quotation, and chromatic lines of consonance and dissonance are crossed repeatedly though never without musicality or purpose.Of Points Fixed and Fluid functions on one level as an exploration of contrapuntal possibilities, with Goldstein (b. 1952) juxtaposing sustained notes and chords with rapid streams of jazzy, syncopated figures. Such bifurcation isn't treated baldly, with one part simply alternating with the other; instead, separations between them are blurred and rendered more fluid when each seeps into the other. In place of collision, overlap, interlacing, and intermingling arise to often spellbinding effect, and though quiet, tolling sections intersect with concussive pounding during the fourteen-minute presentation, one comes away from the piece less cognizant of disparate elements in conflict than subtle integration. In both performances, Garth's command of dynamics impresses, specifically the deftness with which she alternates between a delicate hush and forceful declamation. One need look no further than her handling of Clement's iconoclastic tenth prelude as an example, but evidence of her bravura playing is present throughout. Tour de Force turns out to be an applicable title on multiple levels as opposed to one only.