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L Harrison: Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan

Sarah Cahill (piano); Gamelan Galak Tika (CMA Recorded Archives)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
Lou Harrison_Concerto

L Harrison
Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan
Sarah Cahill (piano); Gamelan Galak Tika
CMA Recorded Archives   26:00 mins

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Lou Harrison (1917-2003) was a ceaseless seeker for new forms of musical beauty. After composing percussion music in the 1930s, he went on to try his hand at 12-tone serialism and music for dance; then, after studying medieval and Renaissance European music, he went deeply into the music of Chinese opera. At Dartington Summer School I once watched him persuading all-comers to enter what he called his ‘paradise garden of delights’ – the gamelan he’d built with his partner Bill Colvig. His prolific composing spanned many musical worlds.

This recording of his rarely-heard Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan was made for the Cleveland Museum of Art, whose policy is to archive historically important works. Pianist Sarah Cahill explained her challenge: it took several re-tunings, weeks apart, for the piano’s strings to adjust to the gamelan’s requirements, and she found the sound initially disorienting, ‘but that disorientation provoked more intense listening’.

In three movements, the concerto starts with dark octaves on the piano, whose grainy sound goes on to blend so well with that of the gamelan that one can hardly discern it as a separate agent; Cahill’s touch is perfectly in keeping with the style of the Javanese instrument. In the dreamy middle movement the piano emerges as the star, and we enter a gorgeously ethereal soundworld.

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Michael Church