Edward Neeman | Rachmaninoff & Sitsky

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Rachmaninoff & Sitsky

by Edward Neeman

Themes of death and the struggle for rebirth intermingle on this album of Rachmaninoff's sombre Etudes-tableaux, Op. 39, and Larry SItsky's Sonata No. 1, "Retirer d'en bas de l'eau", which is based on an ancient Voodoo ritual.
Genre: Classical: Romantic Era
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Etude-Tableau in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 1
3:28 $0.99
2. Etude-Tableau in A Minor, Op. 39, No. 2, "The Sea and the Seagulls"
7:48 $0.99
3. Etude-Tableau in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 39, No. 3
3:14 $0.99
4. Etude-Tableau in B Minor, Op. 39, No. 4
4:02 $0.99
5. Etude-Tableau in E-Flat Minor, Op. 39, No. 5
5:45 $0.99
6. Etude-Tableau in A Minor, Op. 39, No. 6, "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf"
2:38 $0.99
7. Etude-Tableau in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 7, "Funeral March"
7:32 $0.99
8. Etude-Tableau in D Minor, Op. 39, No. 8
3:43 $0.99
9. Etude-Tableau in D Major, Op. 39, No. 9, "Oriental March"
3:48 $0.99
10. Piano Sonata No. 1, "Retirer d'en bas de l'eau": I. The Waters of the Abyss
8:35 $0.99
11. Piano Sonata No. 1, "Retirer d'en bas de l'eau": II. Invocations of the Invisibles
6:11 $0.99
12. Piano Sonata No. 1, "Retirer d'en bas de l'eau": III. Loa of the Crossroads
5:01 $0.99
13. Piano Sonata No. 1, "Retirer d'en bas de l'eau": IV. Danse de Rejuissance
6:27 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The debut CD of Australian-American pianist Edward Neeman.

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF wrote his nine Etudes-tableaux, Op. 39, in 1916–17, five years after his first set of Etudes-tableaux, Op. 33 in 1911 and shortly before his exile from Russia during the revolution of 1918. These masterpieces represent the culmination of a fervent period of experimentation in harmony and pianism, and were followed by a long fallow period in which Rachmaninoff scarcely composed at all. When he did return to composition some ten years later, he wrote in a more direct, leaner style with influences of Gershwin and jazz.

While Rachmaninoff occasionally turns to the warm lyricism of his earlier works, the set is dominated by a more intense, chromatic musical language that paints scenes of his home country in richly dark tones. The “tableaux” of the title hints that extra-musical images were sources of inspiration; however, Rachmaninoff gave few specifics. Only a single letter, written to Ottorino Respighi in 1930, gives a tantalizing glimpse of the composer’s secrets. The popular titles of the second, sixth, seventh, and ninth etudes come from this source. Despite the paucity of written evidence, the vivid musical language—the fiery inferno of the first etude, for example, or the melancholy seascape of the eighth—might suggest other images to today’s interpreters.

I have been privileged to know LARRY SITSKY since I began studying piano and composition with him in 1999. Anyone acquainted with this remarkable man will attest to his brilliant and generous artistry and penetrating insight as a composer, pianist, and scholar. A rare breed among musicians these days, he possesses an artistic vision unwavering in its integrity. He has never condescended to allow his aesthetics to be dictated by the changing winds of fashion or the approbation of his colleagues. In fact, he has deliberately sought out the unpopular and neglected areas of musical thought. His early works show his fascination with the European avant-garde at a time when the Australian musical academy shrank from these developments with hostility. In the 1980s, when modernism was generally accepted and had a small but dedicated following in Australian culture, Sitsky antagonized his partisan colleagues with triadic harmonies, a new fascination with tonal melodies derived from Armenian folk music, and the use of quasi-Romantic gestures inspired by the Spanish composer Roberto Gerhard. When Neo-romanticism became the order of the day, he tempered his own romanticisms with a leaner aesthetic.

Not content only to challenge the status quo, Sitsky challenges himself, thwarting complacency by continually searching for new ways to develop his artistry. I believe it is unique for a pianist composer to write a Piano Sonata No. 1 more than 50 years into his career—others have either churned out sonatas since the flush of youth, or have forever fleed from its formal implications. When I studied with Sitsky in the early 2000s, he admitted to me that he found the idea of a sonata too restricting and preferred to write fantasias. Also, a sonata is typically longer than most of Sitsky’s earlier piano works. Indeed, considering Sitsky’s impressive career as a soloist, he composed relatively few major piano works prior to 2006. His pianism is characterized by a free, rhetorical style passed down through C. P. E. Bach’s unmeasured fantasies, descriptions of Anton Rubenstein’s pianism, and Busoni’s piano rolls. As a result, his piano writing had tended to be a vehicle for soloistic expression, with relatively lean textures and episodic forms that worked best in shorter, declamatory works.

A commission from the Canadian pianist and composer Gordon Rumson for a 60-minute solo piano work spurred Sitsky into developing strategies to increase the breadth of his piano writing. The resulting masterpiece, The Way of the Seeker (2006), was the first of an outpouring of major piano works by Sitsky that continued with Dimensions of Night (2008), the suite Golden Dawn (2010), and four piano sonatas to date. The move to longer-form piano pieces was accompanied by a stream of consciousness approach to composition, in which formal elements were mutable and could be abandoned as the compositional pen improvised its way across the page. Paradoxically, this freer method resulted in broader musical sections and sustained development. Richly detailed textures left less room for the quasi-improvised expressivity invited by Sitsky’s earlier piano pieces. At the same time, he tapped into a rich vein of harmonic, polyphonic, and rhythmic devices that immeasurably broadened the scope of his piano writing and allowed it to bear the weight of extended forms.

Traditional sonata structure is at the foundation of the four-movement Sonata No. 1 (2009). The first movement is loosely based on Sonata Allegro form. The intense lyricism of the second movement is countered by the third movement, an a effervescent scherzo named after the mischievous spirit of Voodoo lore who stands between the worlds of the living and the dead. The virtuoso finale replaces the traditional rondo with a kaleidoscope that reflects sections of the first three movements.

Sitsky uses the two contrasting themes of the opening movement to drive the dramatic structure of the entire work. The first theme, which first appears in bars 5–14, is a sinuous melody based on major and minor seconds, inviting an rhapsodic interpretation. The second theme, first heard bars 29–34, is an imposing series of chords defined by ascending fourths in the upper voice. These two themes are clearly distinguished by their interval content, allowing them to endure extensive transformation without losing their identity.

Sitsky pays homage to two composers for whom he has great admiration. The sombre march in the second movement references Alfredo Casella’s mystical A Notte Alta, Op. 30 (In Darkest Night). The climax of torrential repeated chords in the third movement has its inspiration in Six Runic Inscriptions by Gordon Rumson.

A few words remain to be said about the titles of the work and its movements, which derive from the Voodoo (or Vodoun) ritual of the dead, as described by Maya Deren in her book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. Sitsky himself has warned against reading too much into the relationship between music and ritual. The various mystical titles of Sitsky’s works are merely indicative of his reading tastes and indicate little more than the text that provided the original spark of inspiration. In particular, he makes no attempt to literally represent the actual sound of the Voodoo ceremony by aping the chanting patterns or drumming rhythms. However, it is too tempting to resist drawing some connections to the ritual, which is an intriguing blend of memorial service, seance, and good luck spell. Retirer d’en bas de l’eau is far from the codified rituals of our modern day religious institutions—it is a dynamic struggle, a dramatized encounter between opposing forces: the living and the dead, fortune and curse, the physical and the metaphorical, good and evil. I cannot help but fancy that these tensions are illustrated musically through the clashes and reconciliations of the two contrasting sonata themes. The fragile balance between these forces is a teetering equilibrium on which we depend for our survival.

The high priest, or houngan, has a role in the ceremony that is similar to that of a performing musician, and Sitsky puts the pianist into the high priest’s shoes. A theatrical master, the houngan uses our awe of the supernatural to reach inside our own souls, coax out our latent desires, and transform our metaphysical being. He is a magician of the highest order, inciting our awe and wonder in the name of a power greater than us all. This is equally the musician’s calling, as the highest goal of our art is to transform our listeners through music. In his powerful and transcendent Piano Sonata No. 1, Larry Sitsky gives and asks for nothing less.

The Australian-American pianist EDWARD NEEMAN has performed across five continents. Critics have lauded him as a “true artist” with “an excellent technique” who “isn’t afraid to put a distinctive stamp on whatever he touches, without resorting to mannerism.” A top prizewinner of numerous international piano competitions, including first prize in the Joaquín Rodrigo Competition in Madrid, second prize in the Southern Highlands International Piano Competition, and third prize in the World International Piano Competition, Dr. Neeman has performed with orchestras across Europe, Australia, and the United States with conductors including Andrey Boreyko, Alan Buribayev, Chen Lin, Ruben Gimeno, Enrique Perez Mesa, Nicholas Milton, Pascual Osa, and Vladimir Verbitsky.

Dr. Neeman’s versatility as a performer, teacher, and academic has resulted in a wide-ranging and multifaceted musical career. In the 2015–16 season, he will perform as a soloist with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Cuba, the National Capital Orchestra of Australia, and the Canberra Youth Orchestra. An enthusiastic collaborative artist, he has performed with musicians including Itamar Zorman, Abigail Fischer, Ben Capps, and members of the JACK quartet. He maintains an active piano duo with his wife, the Indonesian pianist Stephanie Neeman, and writes piano duet arrangements of popular melodies for the duo. He performed with the American Ballet Theater in their 2014 tour of Japan.

A composer himself, Dr. Neeman is a passionate advocate for the music of our time and has premiered works by composers such as Paul Chihara, Larry Sitsky, Alistair Noble, and Reinaldo Moya. He has performed regularly with new music groups, including AXIOM and the Metropolis Ensemble.

Dr. Neeman holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Australian National University, a Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music, an Artist Diploma from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from The Juilliard School. His teachers have included James Tocco, Jerome Lowenthal, Solomon Mikowsky, Santiago Rodriguez, Larry Sitsky, and Irena Orlov. As an extension of his doctoral research into free improvisation and performing graphic scores, he founded an improvisation group, the AIR Improvisers, and he has included free improvisation in several of his recitals, often in conjunction with electronic instruments and sampled sounds. His current research includes an innovation in the mechanism of the piano’s sostenuto pedal, and its potential ramifications for pedaling technique.

Dr. Neeman regularly gives masterclasses around the world. He has been a jury member for the Mozart International Piano Competition in Thailand, the Hong Kong Schools Festival, and several festivals and competitions in the United States. He currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is on the faculty of the Utah Valley University. He also holds the position of Artist Faculty at the ELMS Conservatory in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Recorded at Libby Gardner Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 16, 2015 (Rachmaninoff),
Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, Australia, June 22, 2010 (Sitsky)
Audio technicians: Edward Neeman and Niven Stines
Graphic design: Stephanie Neeman



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