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Review: Callisto: Music for Piano

Albany Records CD, Troy 617)

For years, Joanne Polk, who is the first and only pianist so far to record the complete solo piano music of Amy Beach, has also been a devout champion of the music of Judith Lang Zaimont, having served as the pianist in previously issued recordings of her two piano trios as well as the soloist in her Calendar Set of 12 preludes for piano solo. Together, Zaimont and Polk have also founded American Accent, an ensemble and concert series devoted to keeping recent compositions in circulation after their premieres. Now, the two are joined again for Callisto, an intimate disc of solo piano music on Albany.

The disc begins heroically with a formidable Piano Sonata, composed between 1999 and 2000. With its three hefty movements crammed full of rapturous melodies punctuated by thick, sumptuous chords sometimes suggestive of progressive jazz, JLZ's addition to the canon is ample proof that the sonata form is far from a relic of the past. A shorter Nocturne from 1979 (the oldest composition on the disc) follows, breathing new life into a genre associated in most people's minds with people like Chopin and John Field rather than the music of today.

The real highlight, however, is Zaimont's harmonically fascinating suite, Jupiter's Moons from 2000, the work which undoubtedly inspired the disc's sci-fi cover. The six movements, each named after satellites of the largest planet in our solar system, offer spacious utterances filling the entire range of the keyboard which occasionally hint at post-minimalism and at other times head into more otherworldly non-metered terrain. To bring us back to earth, the disc closes with the "Hesitation" Rag, a brief romp of postmodern ragtime.

-- Frank J. Oteri, NewMusicBox

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