Danny Holt

Fast Jump

Innova CD 734

LA-based pianist DANNY HOLT, currently on the faculty at Cal-Arts, is a brilliant player. A percussionist as well as a pianist, he attacks the instrument with verve. On his Innova recital disc, the pianist presents five world premieres; all pieces written since 1997. The disc opens with Caleb Burhans’ In Time of Desperation (2003). Written to commemorate the passing of Luciano Berio, the piece is a series of variations on a ground. This venerable technique is refreshed by pop-inflected harmonies and a postminimal rhythmic ostinato. While the language seems distant from Berio’s, Burhans’ engagement with elements from the distant musical past, as well as his willingness to explore vulnerable emotional terrain, resonant with the departed as music of a kindred spirit.

Holt’s fulsomely energetic approach seems well-suited to the Yamaha grand he favors. Brightly shaded incisive attacks give appropriate luster to the CD’s title work; Lona Kozik’s Fast Jump; Etudes and Interludes for Piano. Kozik writes brilliantly for the piano, inhabiting an earnest, postmodern language rife with virtuosity. “A Tangled Web We Weave (We Keep our Demons Intact)” is filled with whirling arpeggiations and punchy repeated clusters. Traversing the entire keyboard, it alternates registers in strategic, dramatically-charged juxtapositions. Another highlight is “Disperse (the quick but calm spread of sunlight – on water – at dawn)” is an appropriately Impressionist etude in polyrhythmically overlapping arpeggiations, creating a diaphanous swath of shimmering harmonies.

Jascha Narveson’s ripple (2005) is a welcome respite in the midst of these stormy musical proceedings. Its spare harmonic palette and gentle demeanor remind one a bit of Tobias Picker’s “Old and Lost Rivers;” but Narveson favors a more pointillist sensibility. In a clever programming choice, this “eye of the hurricane” is followed by Graham Fitkin’s “Relent.” This postminimal powerhouse is a live staple of Holt’s; and he plays it assuredly and impressively. At eleven minutes in duration, Fitkin’s constant keyboard assault is a grueling gauntlet, containing enough material to keep the players in his multi-piano works happy; Holt manages to grab it all with two hands – con fuoco!

The disc closes with another set of elegies: David Lang’s memory pieces (1997). Although his recent Pulitzer prize award has garnered Lang increased scrutiny of his latest works, these pieces serve as a reminder that he’s been a consummate craftsman and thoughful composer all along. Each of the pieces serves as a memorial to a departed friend. The half-hour cycle is frequently poignant, but also serves as a collection of etudes. “cello” highlights cross-hands playing; “cage” is an exploration of ambient effects. “Spartan arcs” is a delightful showcase for one of Holt’s favorite techniques: overlapping arpeggios. While one seldom thinks of etudes solemnly emotional works, “memory pieces” is both a technical tour de force and a considerably eloquent collection.  

Danny Holt

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