Piano Works by Ginastera, Bates, Kapustin, Vladigerov & Stavreva
Reviewed by Pam Asberry
New York based artist Tania Stavreva’s debut release, “Rhythmic Movement,” is a masterpiece. Released on July 7, 2017, it immediately reached the Billboard Classical Top Ten (#8), is the winner of 14 international music awards, and has been praised by critics all over the world. And rightfully so! Born in Bulgaria into a musical family, Stavreva began her musical studies at the age of four. Although she was classically trained as a child, she was later influenced by jazz, rock and experimental style and this is reflected in her work. Produced by the legendary Ron Saint Germain, “Rhythmic Movement” has a fresh, contemporary feel, and demonstrates Stavreva’s prowess and versatility at the piano.
The album opens with an original work, “Rhythmic Movement,” composed for an off-off Broadway production of “The Tempest.” Indeed, Stavreva credits theater with her inspiration to start composing. Like most of the pieces on the album, this piece is percussive, driving and rhythmically complex. Next are two folk dance pieces by the Bulgarian composer Vladigerov, “Ratchenitza” and “Mouvement Rhythmique,”(the French titles a nod to the influence of the French Impressionists on Vladiverov’s music). These are followed by Ginastera’s “Danzas Argentinas,” based on Argentinian folk influences; track 5, the hauntingly beautiful “Dance of the Beautiful Maiden,” is a personal favorite.
Tracks 8 and 9 provide a nice change of pace with the “Jazz Concert Etudes ‘Prelude’ and ‘Toccatina’.” Composed by the Russian composer Kapustin, whom Stavreva refers to as the “Russian Gershwin,” these pieces are rhythmic, melodic, energetic, and a delight to hear. These are followed by “The Dark Side of the Sun,” an original improvisation inside the strings of the piano. Featuring glissandos, the plucking of strings, and other avant-garde performance techniques, the effect is mysterious and crepuscular. “White Lies for Lomax” by Bates is a blues fantasy tribute to Alan Lomax, best known for his field recordings of twentieth century folk music. A musician himself, Lomax is credited with discovering and bringing to a wider audience artists such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Lead Belly, and others. This piece, commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center, won the third Van Cliburn American Composers International Competition in 2009 and, according to Stavreva, “the feel only seems improvisational.”
“Dilmano, Dilbero” is a popular folk song in Bulgaria and on Track 12 Stavreva sings the theme in order to provide a point of reference to the folk song source of the “Dilmano, Dilbero, Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Song” (Vladigerov) that follow. Performed with virtuosic clarity, this magnificent set of variations for solo piano were a highlight of the album for me.
Track 7 is a Stavreva’s interpretation of the fourth movement of Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1, “Ruvido ed Ostinato,” the basis for the album’s final track, “Ritmico y Distorsionado.” With the addition of guest artist and two-time Grammy award winning drummer Will Calhoun, this track brings the album to a dramatic conclusion, with purposeful distortion of certain sections of the piano and a play on words with the title (“rhythmic and distorted”).
Joyfully passionate and masterfully performed, “Rhythmic Movement” is a stunning artistic achievement. Regardless of your musical preferences, this is an album you don’t want to miss. Most enthusiastically recommended!