Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quattro Mani - Lively Lounge Lizards

I love everything about this release. The performances are top-notch, the theme is focused, yet within that focus is an amazing variety of compositions and styles.

This recording is with the new Quattro Mani duo piano team (Steven Beck replaced retiring Alice Rybak in 2013). Though the Susan Grace/Steven Beck chemistry is slightly different than that of Grace/Rybak, there's no diminution in quality. The Quattro Mani perform with a single vision, and all the virtuosity and energy the program demands.

"Lounge Lizards" features piano 4-hands works by (mostly) contemporary American composers. It's a program that delights, challenges, and ultimately entertains the listener.

The most challenging work is the oldest: Charles Ives' 1925 "Three Quarter-Tone Pieces." In context, though, it seemed like a work that finally found its own time. As played by Grace and Beck the work has a beautifully expressive quality.

Fred Lerdahl's "Quiet Music" opens the program. Though quiet, motifs move in and out of phase with each other, creating a restlessness and forward motion that carries all the way through the 13-minute piece.

John Musto's unabashedly neo-romantic "Passacaglia" seems to be music written by a pianist for pianists. And it sounds like a great deal of fun to play.

"Of Risk and Memory" by Arlene Sierra is a more introspective work, with the two pianists seemingly playing against each other. For me, the tension this conflict generates between the players made this work one of the most exciting on the album.

The title track, "Lounge Lizards," documents Michael Daugherty's somewhat checkered past with four cocktail piano bars. Of course, this is Daugherty, so the lounge music is more than just lounge music.

It's actually a well-constructed four-movement work that uses the language of Muzak to say something far more substantial. Kudos to percussionists John Kinzie and Michael Tetreault for their sometimes ironic, sometimes cheezy, yet always appropriate interpretations to Daughtery's score.

I love this album.

Quattro Mani: Lounge Lizards 
Steven Beck, Susan Grace, duo piano 
Works by: Fred Lerdahl, John Musto, Charles Ives, Arlene Sierra, Michael Daugherty 
Bridge Records 9486

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