“Andrew Schultz’s impressive piano music collection is deeply rooted in the unique resonant qualities of the instrument. His long-time collaborator, Antony Gray, interprets the works with both sensitivity and panache.”
Covering most of the composer’s piano music composed between 1987 and 2015, the collection is organised (with one minor exception) in reverse chronological order ending with Sea-Change (1987). Subverting this tracking decision, I will comment on the pieces in the order of their composition.
Sea-Change Op. 32 references the well-known “Full Fathom five” passage in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In this passage Schultz recognises the sea as a “metaphor for life and the transformation of life”. Overall Sea-Change is a rather meditative work but from the outset there are contrasting dramatic and calm elements. The composer takes full advantage of the resonant sonority of the piano, initially in loud chords made up of notes at both extremes of the piano range. The work is not in any conventional sense melodic. Rather, chordal structures predominate, both arpeggiated (quickly and slowly) and non-arpeggiated. And as the piece progresses, two-note ostinati (typically of seconds or thirds) are employed to frame this broader chordal material and some abstract melodic motifs.
Barcarole Op 54a (1992) is a rather wistful work that responds to a gravestone epitaph. It is fairly tonal in its melodic design but there are some ominous-sounding extended-technique clusters used as a percussive component to the texture.
A piano adaptation from a few sections of Schultz’s symphonic cantata, Journey to Horseshoe Bend, Sleepers Wake (Karalananga) is based in part on a Lutheran hymn. It is an effective study in pandiatonicism with a few chromatic elements.
Another adaptation for piano, Four Inventions Op. 74a (2009), is from the composer’s chamber opera, The Children’s Bach. The mysterious “Paradise Bar Prelude” begins with a series of slowly unfolding low chords which precede a melodic element beginning minimally but blossoming as the piece progresses. “Toccata (In 2 Parts)” is, typically of the genre, a set of variations over a chord progression. “Little Interlude” is more melodic in intent; while “Poppy’s Fugue (in two Parts)” demonstrates remarkable contrapuntal facility and considerable musical wit.
The longest work on the CD is Nocturnes and Variations Op. 96 (2014), composed in three movements. The two nocturne movements begin and end the piece. Like the earlier Sea-Change work, these movements explore chordal sonority and textural variation rather than melodic lines or motivic development. There is an emphasis on the dark sonorities at the low end of the piano. In fact Schultz writes in the CD booklet that he has ended the last movement with notes that are below the range of a standard piano. In the score he provides an alternative ending for performers without access to or inclination to use the piano models that can facilitate this ideal ending. The central movement consists of a set of 31 variations on a four-bar chromatic chord progression that is heard at the outset. Although this is a much more straight-forward structure, the approach is much the same as in the nocturnes, that is with an emphasis different types of variation and figuration to decorate the chords. None the less there is a compelling sense of textural development in this movement and its mood is, by contrast to the nocturnes, very spirited.
The “Prelude” of Prelude and Postscript Op. 100 No 1 (2015) has a French impressionistic quality in its harmonies and motivic development. Certainly it is much more conventionally melodic than its predecessor and has a strong forward-moving energy. The “Postlude”, by contrast, is very slow and static. It is almost entirely focused on melodic material that is supported by sporadic low resonant chords.
The CD opens with Interludes Op. 100 No. 2 (2015), a work adapted from Schultz’s vocal work, I am writing in this book (2011. The first movement of this two-movement work, “A Gift of Paper”, has a strong romantic music era quality with a big melody supported by rich chordal textures. The second, “Secret Meetings” develops a forward-driving quality mostly using conventional harmonic and melodic shapes but the movement ends in a fairly static exploration of upward-rising arpeggiated chords.
Antony Gray’s interpretation and execution of all these pieces is hard to criticise. He demonstrates a high level of technical competence and a great sensitivity to Schultz’s interest in piano resonance.