Some albums are good. They are worthy of a listen, enjoyable, and an excellent way to pass the time. Other albums are great. They possess the power to take you to another place, if only for a while, allowing you to become lost in the music. Few albums, though, are costly. Oh, there are undoubtedly limited releases that fetch outrageous prices online (I’m looking at you, La Monte), but those are not the albums to which I am referring. No, these few, these albums come with a cost. They are expensive because after a single listening you find yourself ordering not only more CDs by these artists, but their scores as well. They are costly because of the time they take, not only in repeated listening but also in practice sessions and/or analytical investigation. They are CDs first enrapture and then spur you into action. Stainless Staining is a costly CD.
One of the most compelling elements of Stainless Staining is the fantastic pairing of pianist Lisa Moore and composer Donnacha Dennehy. Moore, the founding pianist for Bang on a Can, is well-known for her artistic prowess, and her performance on this CD is breathtaking. (It should be noted that this is the third EP release by Moore in a series for Cantaloupe, the remaining two of which I will be purchasing when my budget allows.) Her energy, virtuosity, and exquisite musicality is perfectly suited to the Dennehy’s music. Dennehy, perhaps better known as the founder of the Crash Ensemble, has been commissioned by many a major new-music performer and ensemble, but it is hard to imagine a pairing working much better than this.
The EP opens with the piece Stainless Staining, which was commissioned by Moore. A soundtrack accompanies the piano, which is based on piano samples that are retuned to match 100 overtones of a low G#. Rhythmic and driving, the music constantly borders on frenetic, but the pacing for this 15-minute work remains spot on. The tuning of the backing track, given the complexity of so many overtones, turns toward interesting territory, yet the piano (at equal temperament) blends seamlessly into the mix. The end result is a wash of sound and energy that should be enjoyed at a high volume on the best speakers you have at your disposal.
Reservoir completes this EP, and complements Stainless well. Roughly divided into two parts, the piece begins in the upper register of the piano, with repeated notes in the right hand and swaths of seconds in the left providing loose melodic form. The energy builds and wanes until, at the peak of the first half, the music abruptly stops and the sounds accumulated by the damper pedal remain suspended. The second half of the piece moves a bit lower in the piano, with the hands quickly alternating chords. As with the first half, lines emerge from the sound, and the energy builds and dissipates. In the end, this “reservoir of collected resonances,” as the composer describes it, slowly fades beyond hearing, as if sinking in water.
Both pieces are extremely effective and beautifully played. You cannot ask for more.
Lisa Moore, Stainless Staining (Cantaloupe CA21062, 2012) | Buy on Amazon