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Imaginary Landscapes Leon Michener (Piano)

Cage In a Landscape.
Ives Study No 20.
Scelsi Aitsi.
Xenakis Herma
L. Michener Improvisations: I Azoth;II Argent Vive;III Nestis;IV Ahura Mazda;V Amgra Mainyu. Interlude - Sol

Future Music Records FMRCD95C0602 [73 mins]

Leon Michener makes his solo debut with an original juxtaposition of modern classics and controlled (as opposed to free) improvisations. In his notes he seeks to remove the mystique of improvisation, exploring the 'rules and laws' to be discovered in the music of individual admired composers (jazz and modern classical) - limiting his boundaries and creating contrasting pieces which 'meet the demands of different audiences and situations'. He pursues these fruitful ideas in a compendium of improvisations, Nestis, which draws on Sorabji, Scriabin, Bartok and jazz.

Michener's advanced technique is left in no doubt in tackling Xenakis' daunting Herma, and a respctful relationship to minimalism is exemplified in Cage's restful In a Landscape, with muted dynamics and the sustaining pedal held down throughout.

Especially welcome is a modern recording of Aitsi (1975), Giacinto Scelsi's late response to a malfunctioning tape-recorder, challenging the 'tragedy of the piano' - 'the sudden birth and immediate death of its sound' - to which Chopin responded so knowingly in the 19th century, creating the illusion of a singing percussion instrument, and Scelsi did in the mid-20th with primitive electronics. He had previously abandoned the piano some twenty years before, because of the limitation of tempered scales. Aitsi for prepared piano marked Scelsi's return to the piano after almost twenty years, its sound de-tempered and distorted by electronics to prolong its resonance. Aitsi also became the basis for Scelsi's last work, String Quartet No. 5 (1984), which was precipitated by the death o fhis close friend, the French poet Henri Micheaux - an event which also happened to curtail my meetings with the composer during a week in Rome, prior to my writing possibly the first UK article about him (Piano Journal 7/21, October 1986).

Leon Michener's Imaginary Landscapes is a stimulating CD which brings together a variety of fascinating musics, with a concept and presentation hugely creditable to a pianist I am eager to hear live. He shows convincingly how notated composition and improvisation can coexist, to combine and nicely balance enjoyment and instruction.

© Peter Grahame Woolf