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Contact! 10.2

Spring 1997

In Review

Secret Geometry
Aleck Karis, piano

A CD review by alcides lanza

Secret Geometry, a compilation of works for piano and tape, is a CD that lovers of contemporary piano will cherish and enjoy for a long time. The repertory is engaging, imaginative and well chosen. Although it basically looks at the repertory through a very narrow window, as an example of a certain New York style of the 70's, it is to be rated exceedingly high. With expert playing, Karis puts himself at the forefront of modern piano virtuosity. One looks forward to more of the same, but at the same time one wishes such a musician to also explore a more "experimental" music in future releases.

The opening number is Synchronisms #6 [1970], by Argentinean composer Mario Davidovsky [residing in the USA since 1960]. This composer has merited international recognition with his several Electronic Studies and the Synchronisms series [11 to date] for instruments and tape. Davidovsky is a recognized master in this style of writing, and S. 6 more than exemplifies his excellent control of dynamic nuances, and his rhythmical and timbrical inventiveness. The very polished and extremely precise performance by Karis brings to light the rough edges of this composition, as well as the many phrases having delicate articulation and soft timbres. In short, this is a masterful rendition of this duet for piano and electronics.

The Fantasy for piano and electronic tape by Arthur Kreiger was written in 1979. The approach is more of a concertante or concerto grosso, the tape part providing strong supporting accents and comments to the piano part. The chords that accompany the opening melody reappear at different key points, defining the formal profile of the work. The dark tones of these "lontano" chords move away from the initial choral-like setting and transform themselves into the powerful phrases of the middle section. The magical phosphorescence of this Fantasy is engaging. Both Davidovsky and Kreiger realized these compositions at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.

Karis also puts his very refined technical prowess to the service of the other pieces in this recording, for example the more traditional Secret Geometry by James Primosch. Organized as fast-slow-fast, this piece looks more to the past rather than the present. Its internal organization is also a nod to the past; the initial Variations is followed by a short Nocturne ending in Toccata, this last part bringing back materials previously heard in the Variations. Primosch realized the tape part at the Presser EMS, University of Pennsylvania.

Karis also does a very convincing performance of Milton Babbitt's piece, Reflections, created in 1975. In this case, piano and synthesized taped sounds seems to belong to two different universes of sound, without much of the musical give-and-take present in the previous compositions on this recording. The writing here is more contrapuntal, resulting in a more independent electronic part. With expertise, the pianist brings to the fore the many contrasting dynamics, opposed registers, timbres and textures.

The Midnight Sun [1984], by Joji Yuasa [at 19', almost twice the length of any of the others], closes the record with a piece that evokes moods, atmospheric settings and echoes of concrete images. The more poetical writing typical of Yuasa's music is present here - the composer having used computer synthesis of concrete sources: stones, bamboo, several small bells and a brandy snifter. Evolving at a slow pace, and centering at times on some axial notes, this piece indicates a composer concerned with the use of terse, simple ideas explored in a number of interesting different ways. In brief, Secret Geometry with Aleck Karis, piano, is a highly recommended CD.

This CD is available from CRI

- alcides lanza

© CEC 1997

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