WORKS: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!; Down by the Riverside; Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67077
In 1975 the pianist Ursula Oppens asked Frederic Rzewski for a work to complement Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in a recital at the Kennedy Center. Rzewski’s 36 variations on a Chilean song acquires a topical significance in the light of recent events, since the song in question became an anthem for the Resistance to Pinochet. Rzewski’s 50 minute-long work not only bears witness to his interest in world affairs, but is a brave statement about the state of music, embracing all kinds of styles. Let’s forget our differences, it seems to say to all those bickering composing factions. Rzewski isn’t afraid of the obvious, and he certainly knows how to write for the keyboard, being a brilliant pianist himself.
This superb new recording doesn’t displace earlier versions by Oppens and Anthony de Mare, but one nice thing about it is that Hamelin takes up the option to add his own cadenza, and actually manages to add significantly to everything that has already been said.
Two of Rzewski’s Four North American Ballads (1979) are very substantial makeweights. The inexorable sense of drama in the second of them, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, should make it a popular classic.