An Hour for Piano

Tom Johnson

Performed by R. Andrew Lee (piano)

Irritable Hedgehog Recordings

Many of us grew up on Frederic Rzewski’s recording of Tom Johnson’s An Hour for Piano, which was released on LP by Lovely Music in the late 70’s (or perhaps it was the early 80’s-it was all a blur). This is considered a classic work of minimalism, although I could argue it was really a postminimalist work. Whatever it is, it’s a continuous, beautiful work that builds to a climax and then comes to an end around an hour into the work. Rzewski’s fine performance actually clocked in a few minutes shy of 60 minutes, but was a great performance and, as far as I was aware, the only one ever released of Johnson’s work. Until now.

R. Andrew Lee, who teaches at Avila University in Kansas City, MO, released his own performance on the Irritable Hedgehog label (available on both CD and digital download), and it’s in every way at least an equal of the Rzewski performance. To be honest, if you were to superimpose the recordings or blind me to which was which, I’d be hard pressed to tell one from the other. And that’s meant as a compliment-both performers skillfully captured the beauty in Johnson’s piece, and I’m not sure either recording could be outdone. Just as several recordings of Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus are equally wonderful.

The one difference, possibly, is that Lee’s performance is a tad quieter overall, which allows more of the resonance and some of the finer details to come through. Like Rzewski, Lee clearly has an affinity for the score, and is known as a performer of minimalist and postminimalist music, so this is as it should be.

The album, including the digital one (I’m listening to the digital version) comes with nice liner notes that include an essay by the composer himself. Johnson’s music has not been in vogue over the past few decades, although this piece and perhaps Nine Bells gained some prominence in the 80’s as I recall. Perhaps with this new recording, along with some of the recent performance efforts by composer Samuel Vriezen in The Netherlands, there will be more attention to Johnson’s output, which is not only an important output, but a very pleasing one as well.

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