This collection of Yehudi Wyner’s large-canvas music is as emotionally rich as it is technically accomplished.
The Piano Concerto, Chiavi in Mano” (keys in hand) is given a rollicking performance by pianist Robert Levin (dashing about his thousands of notes with dexterity, scintillating technique and all-important requirement of being able to switch emotional gears at the drop of a hat) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (conductor Robert Spano leads a spirited performance that covers the entire dynamic spectrum and seldom loses its tight-ensemble sheen).
It might readily be subtitled “Ode to the schizophrenic” as its constantly changing mood keeps everyone on their toes, wondering if this, at times, frantic journey has a destination.
The piano begins completely alone (vaguely akin to the deliciously temporary tonal ambiguity of Beethoven’s G Major Concerto), quietly reflecting before a burst of triplets infuses the music with energetic abandon. From there, Wyner uses his considerable orchestration and creative skills to show the piano as accompanist (frequently with wild brass and an edgy Brahms-like dotted-rhythm dialogue) or dreamy protagonist (time after time, with wave after wave of sound, the piano seems intent on winning over the orchestra but is rebuffed at every sonic turn—not even a bold quotation from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony can win the day).
An attempt to break through the sound barrier by taking a decidedly playful approach (Levin’s variety of touch and utilization of weight is outstanding) only inspires the woodwinds to shriek with mocking taunts. Marvellously, there’s a brief legato moment where soloist and tormentors share the same idea; Wyner has subliminally foreshadowed the happy resolution to come. Now a different game is afoot, replete with catch-me-if-you-can pianistic scampering (answered intriguingly by a low-voiced chorale) that fantastically shifts into compelling dance-hall mode peppered with a saucy snare drum and violins that—in this instance—decide to let it ride.
Little wonder this work was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize, it will also win over any audience lucky enough to hear it for themselves.
Wyner’s Cello Concerto astonishes in its emotional depth, motivic development and wondrous sense of genesis which goes far beyond any notion of program. Cellist Maximilian Hornung is most certainly on the same page as the composer. He despatches the considerable technical challenges with a sure-footed ease that lets him, and the listener, dwell solely on the inner struggle of thoughts and ideas that permeate the score. Also starting seul, the rich double stops belie the notion of solitude, setting up stunning contrast between the now anguished, ferocious attacks of the soloist and a pair of brooding bassoons. The orchestra (ably led by Susan Daenny Wyner who might wish take a few more breaths as the soundscape is informed with ethereal strings, a spatter of brass and upper-register cello) is never at odds with the solo line. Rather, it tries to help a colleague through a time of turmoil. One of many highlights occurs just after the violins blossom into full-bowed glory: there is an extended section where Hornung singlehandedly accompanies his colleagues through all registers and (even as the woodwinds return with the repeated-note motif that so beautifully first emerges over a bed of steady pizzicato) the balance is, finally, ideal. Curiously, the recording engineers left the Odense Symphony a tad distant in the solo-to-orchestra levels, leaving many of Wyner’s orchestration details for another day.
In Lyric Harmony, the ear is treated to another banquet of orchestral colour (here the recording balance is excellent). Particularly appealing are the “backbeat” effects in the “Processional” as well as the spectacular use of percussion and “grumpy brass.” Conductor Wyner keeps everything moving and shapes the final hairpin dynamics with great skill.
The opening of Epilogue: In Memory of Jacob Druckman is a beautiful combination of low strings (using rhythm and texture that conjures up Sibelius’s Second Symphony and even Rossini’s Overture to William Tell) and melodic tympani. Not surprisingly, darkness overshadows the light. Hope does appear and the passage of time is alluded to with repeated pizzicatos following a singular bell. This heartfelt remembrance is moving and sincere. It’s a testament that wordlessly speaks volumes. JWR