‘If constructing organic structures is one challenge facing today’s composer, finding a distinctive musical voice is another. Stephen Hartke has one… Authenticity is a difficult quality to account for, but Hartke’s music is guileless and affecting.’ New York Times.
Stephen Hartke is widely recognised as one of the leading composers of his generation, whose work has been hailed for both its singularity and the inclusive breadth of its inspiration. The result is an individual musical voice – one of melody with colour, reflecting two great individualists, Bartok and Messiaen, and an affection for non-Western music. In addition, his openness to a blend of the abstract and the sacred, and his disregard for the boundaries between high and low art, is heard in his varied output. This collection offers the listener different sides to Hartke’s chamber music composition performed by America’s premier piano quartet, Los Angeles Piano Quartet.
The surreal trio The Horse with the Lavender Eye of 1997 here receives is premiere recording. It counts amongst its bewildering array of inspirations a play by Carlo Goldoni, Japanese court music, the cartoons of Robert Crumb, and Looney Tunes. Hartke explains ‘All the movements have to do in one way or another with a sense of being off-balance – playing music with only one side of the body; being caught between insistent and conflicting demands… nonetheless, in the very end, a sense of calm and equilibrium comes to prevail.’ Post-Modern Homages for solo piano also receive their premiere recording. Despite the title they were not written as a set, and thus the piano writing is very different in each piece, but they share a common feature: each was composed for a friend, and each transforms aspects of an existing piece of music, for example Gymnopédie No.4 evokes Erik Satie. Hartke’s other major work for solo piano is the vivid Sonata for Piano, cast in three movements, the central movement with a muscularity and elegant ease that brings to mind the dancing of Gene Kelly. The final work is The King of the Sun, a work written for the Los Angeles Piano Quartet. Inspired by paintings by Miro, the work is of humorous spirit. The New York Times said of the work, ‘Here and there, one could here intimations of composers as diverse as Olivier Messiaen and Steve Reich, and idioms as far afield as gospel and jazz. Yet the writing sounded coherent and vigorously expressive, not afraid of dissonance but not obsessed with chromatic fragmentation, either.’
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