7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Late Twentieth-Century Masterpiece,
This review is from: Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Audio CD)
One pleasant memory of my thirty years attending the Aspen Music Festival was a conversation I had with the esteemed New York Times music critic, Harold C. Schonberg, as he was giving me a ride back into town from a performance at the Music Tent. He had recently written a controversial article about Frederic Rzewski's 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!', calling it "an electrifying work, one of the most significant piano pieces of the generation." And he had taken some attacks from those who felt that Rzewski's piece was simply left-wing agitprop, not worthy of serious critical attention. I told him how fervently I agreed with him, having heard its dedicatee, Ursula Oppens, give a stunning performance of this hour-long work. I felt then, as I do now, that it was one of the most brilliant sets of piano variations in the entire history of such works and that it stood up as music qua music, regardless of its political implications (although there are plenty of those in the music as well). Since then his opinion has been strongly endorsed and probably twenty pianists have now included this dauntingly difficult work in their repertoires. There have also been a number of recordings (by Oppens, Rzewski himself, Stephen Drury, and Marc-André Hamelin) each one of which is marvelous in its own right. Now comes this new recording -- at budget price -- by Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat.
Raat's performance is probably closest to that of Oppens in that it tends to round off some of the work's rough edges -- one can hear them aplenty in Rzewski's recording -- but it also includes some appealing improvisation as indicated in the score as well. (I must say that I was a little let down, though, by his improvised cadenza just before the end of the piece. It seemed a little timid.) Impressive also are van Raat's brilliant booklet notes in which he speaks in detail about the construction of the set. Even with the experience of thirty years' familiarity with the work, I learned some things from his notes. For instance, I had never realized that the work also quotes another revolutionary song, Hanns Eisler's 'Solidaritätslied'.
The CD is rounded out by a fine performance of one of Rzewski's most popular pieces, 'Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues' from his Four North American Ballads.
One complaint: the entire set of Variations is given only one track, rather than a separate track for each variation. This makes detailed or repeated listening to a single variation difficult.
I would not want to be without any of the various recordings of this work. And this one's budget price is a real plus. Still, I suspect I'll continue to prefer Drury, Rzewski and Hamelin.