Phillip Ramey

0 of 5 stars

Color Etudes
Memorial (In Memoriam Alexander Tcherepnin)
Chromatic Waltz
Piano Sonata No.1
Piano Sonata No.2
Piano Sonata No.5 (For the Left Hand)
Piano Fantasy
Tangier Portraits [selection]
Toccata No.2

Stephen Gosling (piano)

Recorded 17-19 March 2003 in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, SUNY, Purchase, New York

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2006
TOCC 0029
Duration: 78 minutes

Toccata Classics’ inimitable presentation includes a back-cover précis of the music at hand. Thus if the music of Prokofiev and Bartók appeals, and that of Alexander Tcherepnin, and descriptions such as “tangy dissonance of mainstream modernism” and “a Lisztian enjoyment of the grand Romantic gesture” are enticing, then this release could well be for you. If further persuasion is needed then maybe “tranquil introspection”, “thunderous explosions” and “demonic energy” will do it for you.

If all this sounds gratuitous, particularly the “thunderous” and “demonic” aspects, and suggesting that the composer is first and foremost seeking effects, then listening to this release is something of a revelation. It’s just possible that Philip Ramey (born 1939) is better known as a writer contributing to various publications and not least as the annotator of programme notes for the New York Philharmonic. One imagines that he considers himself firstly a composer: and this first-time audition of his music that this release brings (save for the previously recorded Piano Fantasy) also cues a wish to hear more of Ramey’s output.

One thing is certain: American Phillip Ramey is a consummate composer – a depth of personal communication is evident in this generous selection of his piano music and that the volatility of it is scrutinised to a very high degree of compositional control, but without compromising its vividness and exploration. Color Etudes is of nine short movements that make a compelling whole, the Memorial for Alexander Tcherepnin (with whom Ramey studied) is a dark tribute, and is nicely contrasted with the 90-second Chromatic Waltz (that fleetingly reminds of Debussy’s La plus que lente).

Three of Ramey’s piano sonatas follow, each concise, the First in three movements, the Second in two (the ‘finale’ being multi-sectioned), and the Fifth in one and for left-hand. Structural cohesion and arresting material informs these works, the left-hand work essaying tragic import and journeying in exploding and imploding contrasts – logic and emotion synchronised (maybe this is the most apposite summation of Ramey’s style) – and with the similar-length (10-minute) Piano Fantasy standing as a compelling probing of the piano’s dynamic, colouristic and ‘inventive’ range, music that William Schuman described as “a great big chunk of musical muscle in the grand tradition.”

Tangier Portraits are 19 pieces of friends and acquaintances met by Ramey in Morocco; one is a self-portrait. Ramey has chosen four for this disc: Paul Bowles, Cherie Nutting, Philip Krone, and ‘himself’. All are intriguing. (In his extensive and excellent booklet note, Benjamin Folkman suggests that ‘Ramey on Ramey’ may be the first of its kind. Hmmm, I think Elgar got there first!) Toccata No.2 is sinewy, a demonstrative end to a very recommendable release.

English pianist Stephen Gosling has full measure of the considerable technical demands and makes music of Ramey’s pieces: atmospheric, rich and communicative – and, for all the extremes, discrimination. Gosling has been recorded with (not inappropriate) fierce immediacy.

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