Peter Child

Albany Records Troy 1114

MIT professor Peter Child has done a number of orchestra residencies and composed plenty for larger ensembles. But his latest disc features more intimate fare: chamber works for one and two players. The pieces are compelling, suggesting that economy of means has in no way stunted Child’s creativity: quite the contrary!

Indeed, the stunner of the disc is a solo violin work: Variations on ‘Egy Szem Silva,’ a Hungarian nonsense song. Daniel Stepner’s rendering adroitly negotiates a number of styles – Bartokian folk adaptation, Neoromantic lyricism, and bristly atonal passages – and challenging virtuoso passages to make this an engaging addition to an admittedly already-crowded genre. Soprano Jane Bryden and pianist Sally Pinkas capture the pithy wit of a set of Emily Dickinson songs. Child’s harmonic language inhabits both tart economy and fleeting poignancy in these aphoristic settings.
Two pieces for piano duo bookend the disc. Played by the Hirsch-Pinkas Piano Duo,  Duo for Piano, Four Hands is the most modernist-leaning of the works here. It includes percussive dampening effects, wonderfully piquant verticals, and a set of variations chock-full of Webernian canons.  Doubles, played by Elaine Chew and David Daveau, is cast in a more playful demeanor. Many of its miniature movements recall dance styles – Mazurka, Tango, even Boogie Woogie – while its harmonic language makes the most of bitonality. Child revels in having the two pianists play in different keys at once, creating saucily humorous moments worthy of Ravel or Poulenc. Child’s preoccupation with duets transcends easy stylistic categorization. Instead, its a varied sampler of disparately hued, vibrant music-making.
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