Rzewski: The People United Will Never be Defeated!; Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues

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COMPOSERS: Rzewski
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Rzewski
WORKS: The People United Will Never be Defeated!; Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
PERFORMER: Ralph van Raat (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.55936

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The political Left of the 1970s may or may not have been confined to history, but as with any such period, some of its artistic creations will endure. The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, Frederic Rzewski’s sequence of 36 variations on the song by Chilean composer Sergio Ortega, was composed in 1975 for his own wonderful pianism. Ralph van Raat responds to these demands in impressive style. His sound is ideal: at once incisive and full. Moreover, he switches brilliantly between the music’s further-out extremes (for instance, the famous slamming of the piano lid that occurs in mid‑Variation 11) and its long, wry, ruminative stretches. His delivery of Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues, too, legitimately links this eruptive piece to the driving toccata style of Prokofiev. The competition in The People United includes Marc‑André Hamelin’s recording (phenomemal pianism, but much less sharply characterised); Rzewski himself, with matchless light and shade but recorded in rather brittle sound that not everyone will like. Van Raat’s complete package, then, is arguably the best. Malcolm Hayes