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Album Review: Sonance: New Music For Piano
Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi
Cover image of the album Sonance: New Music For Piano by Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi
Sonance: New Music For Piano
Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi
2007 / Capstone Records
69 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Sonance: New Music For Piano is the second in the “Performers Recording Series,” which presents music by members of The Society of Composers, Incorporated “through the dedication and outstanding work by performers of new art music.” The first volume, “Melange” (2005), was also solo piano performed by phenomenal pianist Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi. This series differs from other compilations in that it is performer-based. Each CD focuses on a specific performer, and SCI members submit music for recording consideration. Works are selected, performed, and recorded by the performer(s) featured on the CD. Most of the pieces on Sonance were composed by music professors from around the US, although The Society does not require members to be academics or American. Dr. Astolfi’s piano technique is jaw-dropping. She provides deep emotion when the music calls for it, and clinical detachment when it does not. Currently on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Astolfi has been the recipient of numerous awards, scholarships, and grants. Her studies and performances have taken her throughout Canada, Italy, and the United States. She holds advanced degrees in piano performance from the University of Alberta, McGill University, and the University of Minnesota where she completed her doctoral studies.

While the music and playing on Sonance is brilliant, it is not geared to the casual listener. This is serious, experimental art music that is often discordant, abstract, and even violent. The composers whose work is showcased are Kent Holliday, Suzanne Sorkin, Wang An-Ming, Larry Barnes, Clifton Callender, Jack Gallagher, Michael Sidney Timpson, Jay C. Batzner, Paul Lombardi, Michael Coleman, and Timothy Kramer. The CD opens with Holliday’s “Tango Exotico,” a piece that was inspired by a concert of Argentine dance. A virtuoso piece using tango rhythms, it abounds with vibrant energy and excitement. Ming’s “Danse chinoise” gracefully and delicately fuses western homophonic structure with eastern pentatonic style. It depicts a group of Chinese dancers dancing and swaying to the music on polished marble floors. Barnes’ “Toccata: Act of War” was completed after the events of 9/11/01. Overflowing with passion and anger, it is interspersed with brief moments of lyricism - an exceptionally powerful work. Gallagher’s “Nocturne” is gorgeous. More melodic than many of the pieces in the collection, it includes several cadenza-like sections that Astolfi performs to perfection. Batzner’s “Deconstructionist Preludes” is a group of four separate preludes woven together as one continuous piece. The first is one of the quietest pieces on the CD - very spare and delicate; the second takes the first to a more mechanical mode; the third explodes all over the piano; and the fourth shows the internal similarities of the other three, tying them together. Kramer’s “Der Virtuos” is a set of thirteen pieces based on a series of caricatures by Wilhelm Busch, who is credited with being the inventor of the comic strip. The drawings depict a rather flashy pianist performing for a man, and the titles refer to musical terms such as “scherzo, “adagio,” and “maestoso,” building to a frenzy. The pieces begin gently and build to virtuosic extremes - a fascinating and amusing group of pieces!

Again, this is a very challenging CD, but if you are up for it, give it a try. Sonance is available from capstonerecords.org, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com. Guaranteed to stretch your musical sensibilities a bit!
September 11, 2007
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