ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Play
PERFORMER: Joanna MacGregor (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SC 007 (distr. Mactwo/BMG)
Programmes of fragments ranging over the centuries can seem irritatingly disjointed and inconsequential. But with a controlling genius like Joanna MacGregor in charge, the results can also be extraordinarily stimulating. Her latest compilation juxtaposes Ligeti (an Étude called ‘Autumn in Warsaw’) and Byrd, Cage and Dowland, in an eclectic but strangely coherent hour of piano music.
It is not easy to specify the nature of that coherence, but the juxtapositions often illuminate as well as startle. After Ivana Ognjanovic’s Ship in the Embrace of the Endless Dark Ocean – a multimedia piece evoking the journey of a large ship (perhaps the Titanic) – the Allemande from Bach’s Partita No. 4 comes more than ever as consoling balm: the return of an ordered, sane world after the fathomless horrors of oceanic disaster and chaos.
Similarly, the mindbending rhythmic complexities of Conlon Nancarrow’s Player Piano Study No. 11 (played with characteristic flair by MacGregor) are highlighted all the more when followed by the suspended-time meditation of Howard Skempton’s Even Tenor. There are also cultural contrasts, with prepared-piano exotica such as Cage’s Balinese-inspired Sonata No. 5, Talvin Singh’s Endgame or Moses Molelekwa’s jazzy Strumming sitting happily alongside Ives, Piazzolla and Django Bates. A highly individual, indeed unique, response to the completist anthologies with which our shelves are groaning.