Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rzewski
LABELS: VAI
ALBUM TITLE: Rzewski
WORKS: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
PERFORMER: Frederic Rzewski (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4440 (NTSC system; stereo; 4:3 letterbox)

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Recorded during last year’s Miami International Piano Festival, this DVD has come along just after Ralph van Raat’s fine Naxos CD of the same work – which allows me to correct an error in my review of this. 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 not specifically for himself to play, but for his fellow-American Ursula Oppens. That said, Rzewski’s way with the piece here intriguingly complements his own earlier, formidable CD recording (available within a Nonesuch boxed set). Rzewski’s persona nowadays resembles that of a sage and grizzled pioneer: his no-nonsense keyboard manner makes it easy to imagine him browsing through his masterwork at a piano in a log-cabin somewhere deep in the American backwoods. All those reserves of virtuosity – outwardly so economical, inwardly immense – relate to the unpretentiousness of the musical source: it really isn’t much of a tune, but the flow of invention that Rzewski conjures from it continues to amaze. His performance here has a reflective manner that connects nicely with the music’s improvisatory feel (although, in fact it is only the ‘cadenza’ played before the theme’s final return that isn’t written out). The visual presentation matches the playing: it’s straight with nicely varied camera angles and a minimum of jump-cutting. Malcolm Hayes