>> Review Brian Olewnick (blog)
Pianist and composer Dante Boon often programs his recitals as webs. He
likes to put compositions of great diversity in style and technique
side by side. However, myriad connections can always be found
between pairs of pieces, and these give the whole a subtle coherence.
This is also how his first CD is organized, presenting pieces by seven
composers spanning almost a century of music. But the most important
unifying element of this disc is Dante's own musical personality and
approach to the piano.
Two poles are important for Dante's playing. On the one hand he is
drawn towards the musical discipline of the Cageian tradition and its
concern with objectivity in sound. On the other hand, early
Romanticism, particularly German song repertoire, is important to him.
For many listeners, these poles may seem like opposites. For Dante,
however, there is no contradiction. In his playing, precision of
technique and conceptual clarity are expressions of a passionate
engagement with sounds and their progression as melody. Here, melodic
thought reveals the sonic concept and it is the concept that is sung.
For example, Tom Johnson's Tilework for Piano, probably the most
austere piece in this collection, is a systematic exploration of the
ways in which a fifteen-beat phrase can be covered by a simple
rhythmical three-note pattern that appears at five different speeds.
Those five layers by themselves have a percussive quality. But in his
performance, Dante is more interested in the surprising melodic figures
that result from different combinations of the layers, and his
articulation and phrasing stress the melodic aspect over the separation
Likewise, in a seemingly chaotic piece such as John Cage's Etude no. 2,
Dante manages to let expressive melody surface suddenly, while giving
the piece's complex, anarchic texture a sense of balance and composure.
Similarly, the nervous inner motions of Richard Ayres' No. 8 are
performed with a concentration that draws us into their expressive
detail, and the sudden bursts of pure movement in my own series of
Possible World pieces gain in brilliance through Dante's refined
articulation. (No. 5, scored for 1 to 4 pianos and allowing for variety
in form, is played twice in different versions.) Cage's early Two
Pieces, works of great melodic invention, fit Dante's playing
The other pieces presented here are all based on chords and chord
progressions. Here, too, there is much melodic interest, and Dante
brings a clear balance to all sounds, making them sing. Jürg
Frey's Sam Lazaro Bros turns out to have an almost Schubertian
atmosphere, though listening to it I'm equally reminded of 16th-century
choral progressions. In John Cage's One, a piece that requires the
pianist to carefully organize his phrasing, even the chords themselves
already seem to sing at times - particularly some of the louder ones.
In Morton Feldman's Last Pieces, there is always a subtle local melodic
logic to the progression of seemingly unconnected sounds, which allows
Dante to bring great depth to his playing in the ultra soft range.
The program closes with Michael Manion's Music for Solo Piano,
dedicated to Dante, which draws its chords out into long, sometimes
subtly swinging pulsating moments. Over its extended duration, it goes
through no more than about twenty chords that form one long melodic
arch, taking over half an hour to get to its surprising and very
beautiful final cadence.