SOUNDS OF AMERICA
I O N S
P R O D U C T
P U P
S L Y
P H O T O G R A P H Y
Rhetorical luency: soprano Shara Nova and the Akropolis Reed Quintet revel in the unique timbres of music by Nico Muhly and Annika Socolofsky
Eric Zuber’s debut recording offers solo piano accounts of the dazzling Là ci darem la mano Variations, which Chopin composed at the tender age of 17, and the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise from a few years later. Both works are often encountered in the original versions for piano and orchestra but the composer himself often played them as solos, just as he frequently performed the Concerto No 1, composed at the age of 20, with a string quintet rather than full orchestra. (Once his career was successfully launched, Chopin abandoned the orchestra for good in his compositions.) All three works reveal Chopin’s prodigious imagination and mastery with regard to keyboard techniques, which had a profound effect on later composers.
Zuber is a multi-prizewinning American pianist who has performed extensively, and he demonstrates a comprehensive technical command, whether in the rapidfire repeated notes of Var 2 or the fusillade of leaps in Var 4 of the Là ci darem la mano Variations. At the same time, he reveals a temperament not prone to exaggeration or effect-seeking. His bravura approach is never garish or manipulative, with careful voicing and subtle gradations of colour.
In the Concerto, the performers adopt a stately tempo in the first movement that could perhaps move forwards a bit at times, yet the playing remains confident and focused. Listen to the nuances Zuber applies in the bars leading to the recapitulation of the slow movement, a remarkable passage that seems to foreshadow the French Impressionists. He captures the innocent lyricism of that Romance with pristine elegance against the backdrop of muted strings. The syncopated rhythms of the finale drew from the composer some fiendish flights of virtuosity, which Zuber handles gracefully. Stephen Cera
Muhly . Socolofsky Muhly Hymns for Private Use Socolofsky So Much Morea
Shara Nova sop Akropolis Reed Quintet Bright Shiny Things (BSTC0180 • 38’ • T)
For their fifth album the Detroit-based Akropolis Reed Quintet showcase two commissioned works that brilliantly exploit their unique instrumentation – oboe, two clarinets, alto sax and bassoon.
Nico Muhly’s Hymns for Private Use from 2012 is a five-movement song-cycle on what feels like a deeply personal selection of devotional texts drawn from early English sources, commissioned by Akropolis and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. While soprano Shara Nova’s simplicity rides the emotional currents of the quintet, Muhly catches what each of the instruments likes to do – their plaintive tones, their gurgling, their coolest comfort zones – sometimes with just a hint, sometimes with a riff. The sheer musical imagination of the cycle always illuminates and illustrates the gentle, lyrical poetry. Throughout there is an appealing rhetorical fluency that piques the curiosity.
Annika Socolofsky’s So Much More takes Akropolis on a different tack in which snippets from interviews with small business owners including a Kansas farmer, a North Carolina wig-maker and the owner of an LGBTQ+ wellness business in Boulder, Colorado are imprinted on the musical score to the extent that you cannot hear one without the other. The effect is insidiously yet irresistibly disturbing because of the way it lures us into hearing about community and sacrifice. It was commissioned in 2021 by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Wigmore Hall, and while the audio alone is unexpectedly absorbing, it flares much more dimensionally and poignantly when played alongside the 17-minute fixed-media track produced for Akropolis by Xuan. Laurence Vittes gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE JANUARY 2023 III
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