The redoubtable Stephen Drury once again lives up to his reputation as inspired artistic director of “Sick Puppy” (Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice), with a solo piano recital at New England Conservatory on June 15. SICPP throws caution to the wind with a daring lineup, brings home the bacon as a tireless pianist (in Stockhausen’s Mantra). and may well display grace under pressure conducting his Callithumpian Consort through the week’s full slate of challenging chamber works. (see SICPP web site, thru 6/19)
On day two, Steffen Schleiermacher (1960, Halle) opened his stark, dense solo piano recital with his own Lilâ, a measured, quizzical homage to Olivier Messaien. The piece, alternating lock-hand eastern-mode lyric passages with gong-like open pedal bass notes and plucked strings, reached a pure quiescence (even luminescence) not to be duplicated in the spiky, angular program.
Immediately followed several terse miniatures from Ein Kinderspiel by Helmut Lachenmann (1935, Stuttgart) that seemed to revel (yes, perhaps like an obdurate child) in hammering the extreme ends of the keyboard and cross-hand vexations. Odd time signatures peppered these meccano dances.
With scant pause — just a Groucho Marx head-twist toward the audience -— the pianist launched into Gabbro (Steinstück #1) by Nico Richter de Vroe (b. 1955). The stony ostinato pattern (chord, chord, rest, rest) eventually slowed, quieted, broke with hairsbreadth pauses, split into miniscule variations that provoked an increasing, internal drama.
Next. Four Piano Pieces of Friedrich Goldmann (1941-2009) proved dynamic and pianistic, with splashy quasi-octaves, Messaien-like bird calls, and faint Parsifal snippets. Complex interplay unfolded between puckish Paul Klee-like twitter-machines and heavy-weather microbursts.
Then. Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2008) based his Klavierstücke 1-4 (1962) on mathematical relationships that unfold in a severe pointillism, hard and fast passages whizzing through moments that are jaunty, arch, ponderous, whatever.
Schleiermacher’s reading was studied and careful, yet cohesive and masterful.
Finally. Nachstudie (1992) by Wolfgang Rihm (1952 —), at twice the length of the other works, was dry, spacy, difficult –- une pièce de grande resistance. The pianist (and listeners) duly weathered the sforzandi that dotted its sere expanses, the protracted outcrops of squealing ostinati. But this reviewer was drifting, observing the youthful if sparse audience to be respectful, even enthusiastic. A prominent pianist in the audience regretfully commented, “No poetry here” and another agreed: “Not a single curved line all evening.” Cutting-edge, indeed. Encores? I didn’t wait: with a Teutonic headache, I sought Celtic consolation.
Fred Bouchard writes about music for Downbeat Magazine and All About Jazz, and about wine for Beverage Business; he lectures on jazz at Boston University, and teaches journalism and literature at Berklee College of Music.