Rzewski: Pocket Symphony; Les Moutons

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rzewski
LABELS: Cedille
ALBUM TITLE: Rzewski: Fred
WORKS: Pocket Symphony; Les Moutons
PERFORMER: Eighth Blackbird ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDR 90000 084
Ironically, one of the 21st century’s most positive musical developments is the way in which 20th-century music is finally being performed with the competence that comes when the interpreters have grown up with the music. This is surely the case with this vibrant ensemble, which treats Rzewski’s music with an exact and necessary balance of passion and puckishness.The Pocket Symphony was written for this ensemble and, as the title implies, there’s a sense of elegant miniaturisation to the piece, which expertly hints at a whole range of traditions ranging from American modernism to ballroom dancing in a series of hyper-condensed sections. Avoiding slickness, the group tackles the piece with the kind of enthusiasm it demands, its members clearly enjoying the improvised cadenzas indicated by the composer.

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Les Moutons de Panurge is perhaps one of Rzewski’s best-known works and carries some wonderful anecdotes within its history which I won’t waste space on here, but I can say that this witty additive-then-subtractive composition transfers perfectly to mixed instrumentation from its original conception as a piece for recorders. The final piece has a slightly makeweight quality about it, but it does have two impossible acts to follow. There are many examples of Rzewski’s ensemble and solo piano works (including Panurge) available on such labels as Stradivarius, but I really can’t identify a more enjoyable selection. Roger Thomas