It does the heart good to see the return of composer-performers; it is one potent sign which gives the lie to those who would trumpet a premature Requiem for the art of Music. A composer who actually does the kind of thing which he asks of others to play music already understands more of his craft than does the theorist-composer. Even granted that the brain is, in fact, part of the body; that the composer himself actively makes music with his own hands, his own lungs, that he makes a practice of engaging in the rhythmic counterpoint which pits the music you're making with the beat of your own heart; this does not merely inform the composer's work: it imparts life to it.
And as this recording attests, Giorgio Koukl's music is a lively art.
I find this disc an exciting, delightful introduction to Koukl's work.
From the surging restlessness of the Theme and Three Variations, through the Nocturne of the second movement, and the trills and repeated notes of the closing Allegro, the Music for piano quintet is marked by assurance of voice, a complete comfort with making use of the full musical space. Koukl calls the first movement, "a reminiscence of orchestral works
"; and in fact, the quintet impresses the listener as having a larger footprint, than just five players.
Koukl is indeed a composer-pianist, and not merely a pianist who also does some composing. His musical sense of idiomatic employment of the strings, and of the flute (in the Little Rhapsody for flute and harp
), is impeccably polished.
is an exceptional example of the sort of piano piece hardly anyone is writing, because it demands a combination of skill and self-awareness rare among composers in our day: a knowledge of (and lack of embarrassment over) the examples of the rich piano literature of the past, together with knowing the tone of one's own musical voice. The result is a piece which relates to the past, but which is a fresh, and personal musical utterance.
All the performances on this disc are completely assured, the interplay among the instruments is expert and sensitive. The two strings, together with the piano, in the Contest Trio
sound like a single instrument.
The major piece on the disc, though, is written for that special collective instrument, unaccompanied choir (with two soli voices). Koukl's setting of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is a signal accomplishment, an artful balance between a subtle modernizing of the pitch pallette of Eastern Liturgical music, and a close empathy with the traditional soundworld. It is rare to find a composer in our day, who can write in a way which 'rings true' to the spirit of Orthodox musical practice, and yet incorporates pitch elements more modern than the traditional body of chant beloved of the Orthodox. With his setting here of the Liturgy, Koukl joins Einojuhani Rautavaara and Ivan Moody in a select and musical brotherhood.
The Swiss Radio Choir handle the score with decorum and reverence; and the voices of soloists John Duxbury (tenor) and James Loomis (bass) are of those timbres just perfectly characteristic of the sung Liturgy.
Above all, this is an hour-long disc rich with sustained musical strength. There is variety of tone, texture and instrumentation; and the quality and character of the music exhibit both a composer and pianist in complete command of both disciplines. This is artistry which requires neither argument nor explanation; one need only listen. Koukl's art here is eloquent testimony that, if the classical tradition is really under some kind of threat, it is not for lack of great talent. Koukl's musicianship and talent are at the ready; only give them play.
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Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
- Musica per pianoforte e quartetto d'archi
- Piccola rapsodia per flauto e arpa
- Il messaggero per pianoforte
- Contest trio per violino, violoncello e pianoforte
- Liturgia di San Giovanni Chrisostomo