Of Two Minds
2016 / Tobin Mueller
Disc 1: 47 minutes
Disc 2: 45 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
One would be hard-pressed to find an artist with a more creative musical mind than Tobin Mueller’s - especially one with the playing chops to fulfill his or her vision. I was fortunate to start receiving Mueller’s CDs for review early in his recording career (2005’s Morning Whispers was my first) and have been more impressed and amazed at his versatility and artistry with each new release (there have been fourteen to date). Of Two Minds: The Music of Frederic Chopin & Tobin Mueller is a two-disc set and the third installment in a solo piano trilogy that began with Impressions of Water and Light (2014) followed by Flow (2015), explorations of the music and artwork of the French Impressionists and the music of J.S. Bach respectively. In this newest release, Disc 1 consists of interpretations of selected Chopin piano solos and Disc 2 presents original works inspired by specific Chopin Preludes.
Mueller describes his process for this album: “I always begin by playing the piece as it is written, then replay the parts I like again and again. As I am listening to the other composer’s music, I am rewriting it in my head. With Chopin, I tried to capture a sense of improvisation that corresponds to the Romantic sensibility. I imagined that if he had written additional variations on the piece, what they would sound like? I ended by writing less jazz than I thought I would and staying closer to what I saw as his intentions. I imagined him sitting on the bench beside me, turning pages, nodding. I wanted him to approve of all of my changes. I wanted the DNA of his music to evolve into mine, the experience of his life to inform my own.” (quoted from an interview by Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold for the October 2016 issue of Fanfare magazine)
As he did with parts one and two of the Trilogy, Mueller includes extensive liner notes, this time often quoting George Sand, who may have known Chopin better than anyone else in his lifetime (1810-1849). Mueller writes about the background of the music and his own feelings about it. After reading the 16-page booklet, you can’t help but feel that you have had a glimpse into the minds of both composers. I have many favorite classical composers, but Chopin always seems to rise to the top - probably because of the emotional honesty and intensity of his music. Mueller certainly taps into that, expressing similar feelings and allowing the music to go where it leads.
Disc 1, Tobin Plays Chopin, has ten tracks based on some of Chopin’s best-known works, including two Polonaises, three Nocturnes, two Etudes, a Mazurka, a Prelude, a Berceuse, and his Fantasie-Impromptu #4 (one track is a combination of two pieces). Sometimes elegant and flowing, sometimes more raw and jazzy, Mueller dazzles with his masterful and deeply expressive playing whether performing the music as it was written or improvising. My favorite tracks are “Prelude #20 in C Minor, Op. 28/Nocturne #2 in C#, Op. Posthumous - ‘Quivering’” and “Berceuse in Db Major, Op. 27, ‘Lullaby avant Satie’.” The first is a medley of two of my favorite Chopin pieces, expressing them with sensitivity and grace - and inspiring me to go find my book of Nocturnes again! The Berceuse maintains the beauty of the original while giving it a more contemporary feel.
Disc 2, Tobin Plays Tobin, contains nine new pieces inspired by some of Chopin’s 24 Preludes and grouped into three-movement sonatas. Mueller lists which Preludes influenced the pieces - sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes not. The three sonatas are titled “Sonata of Quantum Entanglements,” “Sonata Under the Night’s Sky,” and “Sonata for Dreamers.” Rather than interpreting the original Preludes, in these nine movements, Mueller channels the creative spirit and emotional richness of Chopin’s music. Quite honestly, it is very easy to imagine that this is the kind of music Chopin would be writing if he were composing today.
If you love Chopin and are feeling a bit adventurous, be sure to check this album out! Of Two Minds: The Music of Frederic Chopin & Tobin Mueller is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. It is certain to be on my Favorites list of 2016. For more information about the album and the full interview with Tobin, be sure to visit his site.
June 6, 2016
with Woody Mankowski