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Rzewski: Dreams; War Songs etc

Bobby Mitchell (piano) (Naxos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Dreams; War Songs; Winter Nights; Saints and Sinners
Bobby Mitchell (piano)
Naxos 8.559928   70:01 mins


It’s unusual for a composer to want an audience to fall asleep during a performance of their music, but when Bobby Mitchell gave the premiere of Winter Nights – the 2015 cycle of which he is the dedicatee – Frederic Rzewski was delighted to observe that one supporter had snoozed through the entire recital.

The three-piece set is the central item in this collection of solo piano works and is among the last music produced by the American composer, who died in 2021. Its slow pace and thinly textured contrapuntalism is intended as an antidote to insomnia. However, unlike Max Richter’s Sleep, a repetitive eight-hour work during which audience members are sometimes tucked up in beds, Rzewski’s sparkling Bach-like passages in ‘Night Two’ – resplendent with tinkling trills – are simply too interesting to nod off to, while the dark rumbling of ‘Night Three’ would surely tip the sleeper into an unsettling nightmare.

Mitchell has missed a programming trick by not positioning ‘Wake Up’ immediately after Winter Nights. The piece is one of two 2014 excerpts from the extensive cycle Dreams; both ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Ruins’ were dedicated to Igor Levit, the pianist who has done much to bring new listeners to Rzewski’s 1975 variations The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Sony). But Mitchell deserves equal praise for his advocacy, as here he expertly premieres on disc a wealth of Rzewski pieces that remain largely unknown.


Claire Jackson