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(Speak to me) New Music, New Politics

Adam Swayne (Coviello)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

(Speak to me) New Music, New Politics
Gershwin: Three Preludes; M Gould: Boogie Woogie Etude; Kirsten: (speak to me); Malone: The People Protesting Drum Out Bigly Covfefe; Rzewski: Four North American Ballads
Adam Swayne (piano)
Coviello COV 91818   63:25 mins

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Amid snowballing political turmoil, protest piano music is enjoying a resurgence. A blistering account of Frederic Rzewski’s rarely heard Four North American Ballads (1978-9) is the cornerstone to Adam Swayne’s  intelligently curated programme (Speak to me). The ballads begin with a simple, plaintive, bluesy melody, and gradually become entirely abstract. Throughout, Swayne subtly underlines the popular protest song elements (such as ‘Down by the Riverside’), which are often hidden within fleeting atonality.

The titular work by Amy Beth Kirsten receives its premiere recording here. (Speak to me) is reminiscent of Rzewski’s De Profundis, requiring the pianist to vocalise as part of the performance. Kirsten’s work dramatises the Echo and Juno myth, with a particularly challenging second movement, which sees Swayne portray both – female – characters simultaneously. The theatrical aspect of this work and Kevin Malone’s The People Protesting Drum Out Bigly Covfefe (commissioned by Swayne) – requiring the pianist to both wear and throw pink ‘Pussyhats’ (an emblem of feminism born out of the US Women’s Marches) during the performance – is somewhat diluted on disc, but plenty of dramatic tension remains. Gershwin’s preludes and Morton Gould’s Boogie Woogie Etude – symbols of populism – bookend what is an extraordinary programme.

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Claire Jackson