Paul A. Epstein Piano Music
R. Andrew Lee, piano
Irritable Hedgehog CD/DL
Prior to this recording, composer Paul A. Epstein was not a name known to me. There are so many vital creators out there that one must continue to search for them. Thankfully, R. Andrew Lee has recorded this disc for Irritable Hedgehog. It presents eight of Epstein’s compositions for solo piano: a delightfully diverse and stimulating collection.
In Will Robin’s excellently annotated liner notes, he points out that Epstein doesn’t fall neatly into the minimalist category. His interest in Sol LeWitt, Philip Glass, and Tom Johnson notwithstanding, there are processes afoot in Epstein’s music that share an affinity with modernism. Thus, we hear motoric passages brushing up against piles of dissonance and non-tonal canons. Some processes of pitch and rhythmic manipulation demonstrate an awareness of serial approaches: Robin quotes post-minimalist composer and author Kyle Gann, who likens Epstein to “the Milton Babbitt of minimalism.”
Lee performs this challenging music nimbly, with extraordinary verve and impressive rhythmic accuracy. The pianist has steadily expanded his reach to include many composers from seemingly all corners of experimental music. While one savors this recording, it is also exciting to contemplate what Lee will come up with next.
Cedille Records CD 90000 157
The “M” word: minimalism: oft-quoted, sometimes maligned, often misunderstood, and seldom accepted as a self-descriptor by composers. We get into ever more thorny ground as we begin to contemplate “post-minimalism:” does it describe chronology, influence, or some kind of murky musical terrain? If we are to use the descriptor for chronology, even Philip Glass suggests that his pieces departed very early from minimalism. So what are listeners to do with a release such as Filament, on which there is a 17-minute long piece of process music (Two Pages by Glass) that clearly makes much out of comparatively little? Further, what do we call pieces by the younger generation of indie classical composers (another loaded term), clearly enamored with repetition, who make up the bulk of this disc? Perhaps it is better to avoid the style tags altogether and instead say that each of the pieces on Filament is composed by a creator fascinated with repetition, but each one in a different way.
Bryce Dessner channels the instrumentation and affect of murder ballads of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries to create the rustic ostinatos of Murder Ballades. Written for a celebration of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday, Nico Muhly’s Doublespeak is designed to hearken back to the “obsessive repetition” of the 1970s, but it does so in a powerfully articulated fashion. Son Lux’s contributions, abetted by the vocals of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), are brief remixes of material from the album. Filament’s high point is a high octane and highly coordinated performance of Glass’s Two Pages. A single, propulsive line that can be played by any combination of instruments: the elements couldn’t be more minimalist in conception, but the execution is anything but.