Carter Pann (b. 1972) has received a number of commissions both in the states and in Europe. He was a student of William Albright and currently teaches at the University of Boulder—Colorado. Naxos has released some of his larger orchestral work. This disc features pianist Joel Hastings for whom the primary work on the album was written.
The Piano’s 12 Sides is a massive collection essentially of somewhat disparate musical pieces. The notes for the release indicate that each one bears a dedication to different people. On the one hand, the pieces have a sort of Neo-Impressionist harmonic approach often with occasional dissonance that feels more tied in to a Romantic sensibility. The bear a close resemblance perhaps to Debussy’s Preludes crossed perhaps with the Suite Bergamasque and the Etudes. The first selection, “Silhouette”, serves to set up this sound world quite well providing examples of both languid and rapid passage work. It is among the longest pieces of the twelve. A burst of energy then follows in “Figurines” which is a sort of modern perpetuum mobile; later “Le Branle” will do the same in a borrowing of a 12th-Century dance as its formal basis. The music sometimes can feel very evocative, with an almost Asian quality—like a painted screen or scroll, in places like the often serene “White Moon Over Water.” “Classic Rock” has moments that borrow tropes from that genre. The “Soiree Macabre” stands out as an intriguing bizarre salon piece. Another rather beautifully lyrical moment occurs in the touching “She Steals Me.” Another nod to 19th-Century showpieces occurs in the penultimate “Grand Etude-Fantasy” which is a modern update of sorts of the fantasia from Bach to Liszt. The work is summed up with an adaptation of the “Irish Tune” (often referred to as Londonderry Air). While there are connections one might make between the different pieces, most likely the work will be a source for pianists to study modern piano composition as it has that fell to it. Many of the pieces are quite stunning and superbly performed here by Hastings who must pull out a number of stops to both meet the technical demands and communicate this new musical voice. Fortunately these are couched in a very accessible musical language that make the set quite attractive.
At 60 minutes, the CD’s title work would certainly be enough to satisfy any listener, but Hastings has added three additional selections as encores of a sort from earlier in Pann’s output in the mid-1990s. The first of these bears witness to the composer’s musical aesthetic and connections to two modern masters whose music his own is a continuation of: William Albright and William Bolcolm. The jazz and popular music acquisitions in their work is used for two modern ragtime pieces in The Bills (1997)—a homage also to Joplin’s Bethena (in the first movement) and traditional rags (in the second). Another two-step piece, The Cheese Grater (1996), serves as a brief virtuosic exercise to further demonstrate Hastings skills. For a final contrast, there is the cadenza from Pann’s first piano concerto, titled here Your Touch.
Joel Hastings has a lot of ground to cover in these pieces. He must traverse a variety of free form works whose harmonic movement often feels blurred between two centuries. Beautiful lyric lines are given parallel passage work sections for great contrast. What really comes across though is the opportunity to switch gears from one movement to the next. His ability, and willingness, to explore popular musical forms, coupled with his own experience in virtuoso works by the likes of Liszt (which garnered him critical acclaim at the 10th Van Cliburn competition) make him a fine interpreter to present these pieces. The music itself will now enter into the repertoire as Pann’s own reputation builds over time. It would not be surprising to see some of the movements from this massive collection appearing in the future. We have this first recording as a testament though to the overall conception. After hearing Hasting’s work here, it would be interesting to hear some Gottschalk and even a little Joplin from him in perhaps another American recital of more diverse repertoire. Highly recommended.