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Ornstein: Piano Music CD


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Pianist Marc-André Hamelin’s unique blend of musicianship and virtuosity brings forth interpretations remarkable for their freedom, originality, and prodigious mastery of the piano’s resources. Long known for his bold exploration of unfamiliar pianistic terrain, Mr. Hamelin has increasingly turned his attention to the established masterworks of the piano literature, in ... Read more in Amazon's Marc-André Hamelin Store

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Product details

  • Conductor: None
  • Composer: Leo Ornstein
  • Audio CD (19 July 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Hyperion
  • ASIN: B00006B1LA
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 129,831 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Suicide in an Airplane
2. A la Chinoise
3. Danse sauvage
4. No Mans Land - Andante espressivo
5. The Sower of Despair - Moderato
6. The orient in Flanders - Andantino (Molto espressivo)
7. The Wrath of the Despoiled - Sostenuto (Molto appassionato)
8. Night Brooding over the Battlefield - Moderato e misterioso
9. A Dirge of the Trenches - Lento
10. Song Behind the Lines - Andante con moto e malinconioso
11. The Battle - Allegro e molto appassionato
12. Army at Prayer - Allegro, ma non troppo
13. Dance of the dead - Vivo (con fuoco)
14. The Isle of Elephantine
15. Primal Echo
16. Chant of Hindoo Priests
17. Shadowed Waters
18. A Melancholy Landscape
19. Pompeian Fresco
20. Passion
See all 29 tracks on this disc

Product Description

Product Description

When Leo Ornstein died in February 2002, the musical world lost a fascinating composer, quite possibly the oldest of all time (the year of his birth is uncertain, but he was probably 109 years old). Ornstein had an extraordinary life: he was a child-prodigy pianist in his native Russia, a refugee from anti-Semitism, an avant garde American composer and a virtuoso pianist of international renown in his early twenties. However, at the height of his fame he voluntarily turned his back on the limelight and took sanctuary in increasing obscurity, and having been almost entirely forgotten, he lived long enough to take satisfaction in the re-emergence of an interest in his music of which this CD is early testimony. Ornstein's early piano works were unlike anything else in music. He employed the piano as a percussion instrument, pounding out savage rhythms and ferocious cluster-chords with a raw primal energy. He embraced atonality independently of Schoenberg and rhythmic primitivism unaware of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The titles of his pieces among them Danse sauvage and Suicide in an Airplane reflected the extremist brutality of the music and rapidly gained him notoriety. By his early twenties he was one of the most highly reputed of contemporary composers. The music on this CD comes from each end of Ornstein's improbably long creative career. The shorter works were written at its outset, while the large-scale, kaleidoscopic Eighth Piano Sonata, his last composition, was finished in September 1990, when he was in his late nineties. The ever-inquisitive Marc-André Hamelin gives commanding performances of these supremely demanding works. The result is a stunning disc that reveals one of the twentieth century's most original and quirkily imaginative creative minds.

Amazon.co.uk

Thank heavens for small independent labels, without whom an enterprise like this would these days be unthinkable: this disc of piano works by Leo Ornstein, which includes "Suicide in an Airplane", with its brilliantly informative liner-note, represents the rediscovery of a lost world. The biographical facts are remarkable enough: this pianist-composer from the Ukraine was born in 1892 or 1893--the truth was irrevocably obscured when his synagogue-cantor father faked his age to gain him admission to the St Petersburg conservatoire. Ornstein proceeded thence on a maverick musical career in which he gave American premières of works by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Bartók, and Kodály. Meanwhile his compositions veered between extreme atonal radicalism and sweetly romantic tonality: this CD reflects both polarities, which sometimes occur in the same piece.

The incomparable Marc-André Hamelin is in the driving seat, which is just as well since the multi-stave scores of some of these turbulent works are almost black with notes. As eccentric as Ives--though in a completely different way--Ornstein writes big compositions with a narrative drive, and miniatures which are often driven by the impulse of a single visual image. "Poems of 1917" comes across like an idealised score for a silent-film; other miniatures are expressive gems which need no pretext. The concluding sonata--completed when the composer was in his 90s--is a heady blend of Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin and Stravinsky, which triumphantly transcends the mere sum of its parts. --Michael Church

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rrose Selavy on 30 Mar. 2004
Format: Audio CD
This is 'the' Desert Island Disc. Luckily I bought this CD never having heard of the composer but solely because I was intrigued by the title 'Suicide in an Airplane'. Quite simply the best CD on the market. Since first listening to it almost a year ago I have never been able to listen to Chopin, Scriabin, Debussy, or Liszt again. For me it represents the pinnacle of classical music, Suicide in and Airplane has all the pathos of Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, all the dynamism of Liszt's Pieces sur un theme transcendante, but is a lot more easily listened to, it is darkly mesmerising. Dance Sauvage is also a masterpiece as is A la chinoise. The best piece however is Primal Echo. The only piece I can think to compare it to is Carl Ruggles' Suntreader which is similarly brilliant. The music is again intensely absorbing the only way I can think to describe it is controlled wrecklessness (as odd as that sounds). A week after listening to the Primal Echo it kept streaming back into my mind during lectures and completely destroyed my concentration. Ornstein achieves a miracle in these pieces, he creates listenable Avant-Garde music. You won't ever want to stop listening to this CD, you won't ever want to leave your seat after it finishes. Through the looking glass music indeed! (probably the best money I ever spent - though there was the cinema ticket for Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad).
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rrose Selavy on 30 Mar. 2004
Format: Audio CD
This is 'the' Desert Island Disc. Luckily I bought this CD never having heard of the composer but solely because I was intrigued by the title 'Suicide in an Airplane'. Quite simply the best CD on the market. Since first listening to it almost a year ago I have never been able to listen to Chopin, Scriabin, Debussy, or Liszt again. For me it represents the pinnacle of classical music, Suicide in and Airplane has all the pathos of Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, all the dynamism of Liszt's Pieces sur un theme transcendante, but is a lot more easily listened to, it is darkly mesmerising. Dance Sauvage is also a masterpiece as is A la chinoise. The best piece however is Chant of Hindoo priests part of the Arabesques. The only piece I can think to compare it to is Carl Ruggles' Suntreader which is similarly brilliant. The music is again intensely absorbing the only way I can think to describe it is controlled wrecklessness (as odd as that sounds). A week after listening to the Chant it kept streaming back into my mind during lectures and completely destroyed my concentration. Ornstein achieves a miracle in these pieces, he creates listenable Avant-Garde music. You won't ever want to stop listening to this CD, you won't ever want to leave your seat after it finishes. Through the looking glass music indeed! (probably the best money I ever spent - though there was the cinema ticket for Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
one of the best classical CDs I have ever heard 23 May 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
It is shameful that Ornstein sank into obscurity after a brief period of fame early in the century. His music is simply magnificent, especially the piano quintet, but his solo piano music is so stunning, that it is hard to find the right adjective. Anyone who loves modern classical music should buy this. It is one of the greatest collections of piano composition I have ever heard. Ditto for the Janice Weber piano collection on Naxos, and check out the piano quintet too! Ornstein's works have not been widely performed and recorded, so keep eyes peeled. His hammering, forceful piano concerto needs to be recorded also. Perhaps Hamelin will pick that one up as well.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The four stars are for the performance, not the music 2 Jan. 2003
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I'd heard of Leo Ornstein as long ago as the 1950s. I knew he had been an avant garde composer and an activist/publicist for it and for advanced composers way back in the 1920s. I knew that he lived to be more than 100 years old. I knew that he'd been described as a 'Futurist'. But I'd never heard a note of his music. And since I buy everything that Marc-André Hamelin records, I bought this one.
I've tried, I've really tried, to get inside the music. But so help me I can't. It does have a certain descriptive quality that works; the 'Suicide in an Airplane', for instance, does indeed go into a tailspin and crash. But for the life of me I can't see the purpose of this brutal style of composition; it makes Ives at his most discordant sound like a pantywaist. I will doff my hat to Hamelin for taking it on, and I'll bet these are the best performances these pieces are likely to receive any time soon, and surely if anyone could make a listener accept the music, Hamelin could. But not me. I'm willing to chalk it up to my own deficiencies.
Be warned, this is not easy music. It is not pretty music. It often sounds like someone banging out his impression of chinoiserie, or a plane crash, or some wild men dancing in an abandoned manner.
Not for the unadventurous.
Astounding 9 May 2013
By G.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Leo Ornstein (1892/93-2002) is presumably the longest-living composer of all time, and that fact alone may have helped give his music some curiosity value - at least a couple of discs arrived in the aftermath of his death. But as the music on this disc shows his music doesn't only have curiosity value. Of course, Marc Andre Hamelin's magical playing helps a lot, and one suspects that Hamelin might be able to convince listeners that something has musical worth when it really doesn't, but I am pretty sure these fascinating pieces can stand on their own and have a successful life in the concert hall in the hands of other pianists as well.

Ornstein started out as something of an enfant terrible with a series of freely atonal works in the second decade of the twentieth century before mellowing into a more conservative style later on. The music on this disc reveals a composer who has something in common with the American ultra-modernists, but who had, to be honest, a wider compositional range and imagination than some of those ultra-modernists. The earlier works - all except the eighth sonata on this disc - are full of craggy harmonies, clusters and propulsive rhythms, but with glimpses of melodies and a deeply satisfying narrative momentum . Like the aforementioned ultra-modernists, Ornstein employs the avant-gardistic effects in very non-abstract, almost onomatopoetic ways; Suicide in an Airplane, for instance, is a vivid, motoric, depiction of a doomed plane ride, subtle as, well, a plane crash but extremely effective - captivating, even. The sheer variety and range of imagination deployed in these works is striking, however, and none of the pieces are anything less than fascinating.

The Eighth Sonata dates from the composer's nineties, and the compositional language has become far more "refined" - it lacks the energy of the earlier works, but the composer's imagination was hardly less fertile at this point. The sonata is eclectic and full of color, combining something of Ives's deployment of popular themes with Gallic wit and fluency, and despite the somewhat more "classical" idiom the work is immediately recognizable as being penned by the same hand that penned the earlier works.

Hamelin's playing range from the magical to the breath-taking. Not only is he, as expected, unfazed by the technical challenges; he plays it all with a flair and a range of moods and colors that is absolutely astonishing - listen in particular to his ways of characterizing the various shorter movements that make up the sonata. The sound is good and the notes are up to Hyperion's usual standards. A major achievement, and a real must for anyone with an even passing interest in twentieth century music.
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