Opus Review

The Art of Touching the Keyboard


Fall, 2004

Music by Evangelista, Tanaka, Weir, Parkinson, Nørgård, Cameron

Performance: *****

Recording: *****

Reviewed by Robert Jordan

The keyboard prowess of Toronto-based pianist Eve Egoyan is beyond dispute. That she deploys her phenomenal interpretive and technical skills to so much new music is admirable, earning the profound gratitutde of composers who have entrusted their works to her.
The music on this, her latest recording, ranges from brazenly accessible to calmly hermetic. José Evangelista’s Nuevas monodías españolas (1999), a breezy group of settings of 21 Spanish melodies (only one lasts more than 60 seconds), is easy to like. Using little harmony or accompaniment, Evangelista fragments the melodies into wide splays of octaves, embellishing and tweaking them imaginatively without sacrificing the spirit or intengrity of the originals.
The title track, by English composer Judith Weir, plods a bit here and there but retains a tangible connection with its original inspiration, “an over-literal translation,” the composer tells us, “of François Couperin’s 1716 L’art de toucher de clavecin.” Art sustains an attentive listener’s interest not so much by the inherent memorability of its musical materials, but simply by never being quite predictable; repeated listening reveals new details, relationships, sonorities. Per Nørgård’s Turn (1973), originally written for the clavichord, is a quiet and subtle little tour de force of harmonics, overtones and gossamer sounds. Karen Tanaka’s Crystalline (1988), aside from testing the performer’s mettle, is brittle, icy and patterned as complexity as the crystals she attempts to project into the sounds of her music.
In Trail, Stephen Parkinson “asks the pianist to make interesting music from the simplest of materials and the barest of textures.” It’s a bold request and even an intriguing idea but the deck is stacked against Egoyan from the start: neither Parkinson’s musical material, nor his handling of it, is particularly persuasive. It is the unaffected and sincerely dedicated way Egoyan plays the piece that commands the listener’s attention– as it is in Allison Cameron’s sedate Corals of Valais, written for Egoyan in the summer of 1997. Its evocative title turns out to be “not a reference to any particular place–only what might be.” Alas, Cameron’s sparse musical textures convey little beyond themselves and, as in Trail, one is left savoring Egoyan’s exquisite touch and the warm, clear, intimate sonics of the superb recording without being transported in any way by the music itself.