Ives, Xenakis, Cage, Scelsi & Michener

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COMPOSERS: Cage,Ives,Scelsi & Michener,Xenakis
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Imaginary Landscape
WORKS: Study No. 20; Herma; In a Landscape; Aitsi
PERFORMER: Leon Michener (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD95-C0602 (distr. www.fmr-records.com)
Conventional piano recital discs are the bane of the listener’s life. Too many are simply stuffed full of music that the performer happens to like, or to play better than average, or which no one else has got to first, or which is likely to sell well in the foyer of the Wigmore Hall. Discs such as this FMR release, which creatively and systematically create true identities for themselves and stand as self-contained musical experiences, are all too rare. Michener has chosen a group of pieces by some of the best-known composers of 20th-century piano music and interspersed them with elegant and vivacious improvisations which link the compositions in a whole variety of ways, from discreet hommage to knowing contradiction – or perhaps ‘counter-example’ is a better term. The compositions in themselves are quite unlike each other – Ives’s Study No. 20 is rollicking, Xenakis’s Herma structured at multiple levels, Cage’s In a Landscape and Scelsi’s Aitsi gently cryptic and contemplative – and it’s to the pianist’s immense credit that he clearly has a genuine feel for each of these individual styles. A must-have for followers of the genre, but also a lively exposition for anyone who has yet to investigate the contemporary piano repertoire. Roger Thomas