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Last week I managed to trap the little finger of my right hand in a rapidly closing door. I was careless, distracted at the time. I have lost about 4 mm or, in terms of span, a semitone, possibly a tone.

I took the severed part of my finger to the hospital which, fortunately, has a Hand Trauma Unit but, because of the crushing nature of the injury, the doctors were of the opinion that if they did attempt to re-attach it there would be less than 5% chance of success.

Their decision is to leave the injury to heal and then evaluate what can be done at that point.   At the present the main concern is that infection does not set in triggering complications.

Whatever challenges this setback throws up for me as a pianist, I will meet and overcome.   I like major and minor 9ths far too much to allow myself any other consideration.

The title is a phrase that is lifted from Scott McLoughlin’s sleeve notes. It has caught the eye of several writers, and has indeed claimed the attention of Michael Quinn who has placed a review of the three sonatas in The Journal of Music in Ireland which “has gained a reputation as a lively magazine for musical insight and debate, comprising first rate contributors, intelligent but accessible writing”.

Mr Quinn’s C.V. reveals a huge range of skills and expertise. He writes for many magazines, is an editor, publisher, producer, chairman, director, radio drama producer … and more.

I have read this review several times and will continue to read it, not only for the content, but for the pleasure it gives me to read such cogent, quality prose from a person who obviously is a master of his craft.

Two C.D’s. are reviewed in parallel in this piece. Mr. Quinn artfully interweaves his discussion between the two.   One, of course is the sonatas, the other a recently-released album of contemporary piano music by seven Irish composers. And who is the pianist? Cannot be anyone other than the magnificent Mary Dullea. In one of the pieces she vocalises  –  watch out Lady Gaga there’s a new kid on the block.

The thread that runs throughout the review(s) concerns composers who explore the boundaries of the piano “illustrating the instrument’s capacity for accommodating both full frontal assaults and guerilla-like incursions” His opening line refers to Ferrucio Busoni’s dictum that “everything is possible on the piano even when it seems impossible to you, or really is so”.

Many of his comments, his insights, reach deep into my composer’s psyche… “while he posits himself in opposition to the past and seeks to differentiate and distance his music from the present, the sonatas’ restive references to the extremes of Wagner, Sorabji, Tippett and various points in between betray the confinements of both”.

The level of his prose continues as he aims his sights on Sonata No. 8 … “he plays with the unsettling notion of identities fractured and refracted out of recognition, globules of sound time and again coalescing into near-definition only to disperse before they can be recognised and fixed …a virtual archipelago of shifting motivic landmasses washed repeatedly by shifting, waveforms and the flotsam and jetsam of drifting harmonies”.

These extracts are why I am sure that you, the reader, will turn to the full review and delight, revel, in Mr. Quinn’s wonderful exercising of the written word.

His closing paragraph echoes and fleshes out his introduction.

“… both discs find composers revelling in the intricate warp and weft of music in which defining threads are intentionally ravelled, deliberately obfuscated or omitted altogether … suggest a developing shift away from the boundaries of a composer’s imagination to the limits of a performer’s technical abilities offering up the alluring prospect that what seemed impossible or really is so on an instrument as venerable and venerated as the piano might actually become possible.

For a must-read of the full review, click on this link:

http://www.journalofmusic.com/focus/taking-listener-everywhere-and-nowhere.

Fanfare Music Magazine was founded in 1977 by Joel Flegler who, after 38 years, is still the publisher. The H.Q. of this bimonthly magazine is in Tenafly, New Jersey. It describes itself as “The magazine for serious record collectors”. It has also “become the magazine for serious musicians”. So not many jokes or laughs here then. It has more than 50 (serious) contributors, three of which were sufficiently attracted by the CD to forward a review.

I am fortunate again.   All three reviews report my music in a charitable vein and have kind, generous comments and opinions to offer. This is not always so, especially with new music and new composers which so often seem to attract contentiousness and polemics for many reasons, some obvious, some not so. Q: To what extent is the evaluation of new music a subjective process dependent upon the personal values and preferences of the reviewer?

The first review is by Peter Burwasser who lives in Philadelphia. He has written about music for many years and, from an early age, seems to have been thoroughly engaged, immersed in music in many different ways, roles and capacities, one of these being editor of a new magazine Philadelphic Music Makers. He states that “my single most important goal as a writer about music is to get more people to listen… if we stop listening, it dies”. He feels “a special bond with the music of living composers”. I am one of those, just.

His review is mainly a technical appraisal of my non-prescriptive techniques. He goes on to say “[Craven’s] kind of wide ranging technique allows for considerable diversity in the music itself… it is not Minimalistic in the motoric, repetitive style of pioneering American practitioners such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Elsewhere the music is dense, even lush, especially in the Sonata No. 9, a three movement work that has the most traditional profile of the three here. He is a very interesting musical thinker, and there are intriguing ideas here”.

The second review is by Carson Cooman who is a research associate in Music and Composer in Residence at the Memorial Church Harvard University. He is a staggeringly prolific composer and, from what I have heard, his music is often charged with tremendous energy. He is also a concert organist, performing exclusively repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Of all the reviewers of these sonatas he is the only one who possesses a score to Sonata No. 8 because, as you might have read in an earlier post, after having listened to my “Set for Piano,” Carson contacted me and asked me to write a piece for him. I don’t for one second imagine that he would have expected anything like this sonata which is written almost entirely and uniquely in Middle Order format.

After a brief technical explanation of my compositional methods employed in the pieces he goes on to say “Craven’s interest and background in open form writing comes not from the John Cage aesthetic, but rather through the freedom found in improvisational styles (such as jazz). Thus the resulting music is not nearly as avant-garde as the description of its construction might lead one to believe. Scott McLaughlin’s extensive booklet notes provide a detailed trip through the pieces and their similarities and differences… The overall result of all three sonatas is an engaging listening experience that repays revisiting. There is nothing at all off-putting about Craven’s material, and while at times the forms are illusive on a first hearing of such large-scale music, subsequent listens (sic) begin to reveal further connections… Mary Dullea inhabits and conveys Craven’s musical landscape with both sensitivity and virtuosity”.

The third review is by Mary Nockin who lives in “a piece of beautiful desert land between Casa Grande and Gila Bend” where she writes and paints. Indeed some parts of her review are quite painterly. She was born into a family of classical music enthusiasts in New York City and studied piano, violin and singing. Later at Long Island she taught English and theater (sic), arts and was a soprano soloist at the local cathedral. She now writes for a number of music publications and is an opera critic.

Her article commences with a very brief introduction to Non-Prescription which precedes a brief analysis of the sonatas. One of her comments echoes Fanfare’s description of itself “This is not music for casual listening, but it is fascinating for the serious music lover” which, in a very tenuous way, provides some sort of symmetry,  a book-ending for this post.

To read the complete reviews please enter Reviews of Metier MSV 28554 Eric Craven Piano Sonatas

No 10/10 here

Last August in the post entitled “May I Present……….”   I promised to report every review “good or bad”.   Well, here’s one that is quite different from the others in several respects.

The American Record Guide has reviewed recordings since 1935.   It is published bimonthly and claims to offer “500 reviews every issue written by a freelance staff of over 80 writers”.   In presenting itself it strikes a bold, jaunty, in-your-face posture…..   “no stuffy British sentences (what, I wonder, is a British sentence?) or academic circumlocutions.   If you resent hype and jargon you will like our writing”.   For what kind of readership is this magazine targeted?

One of the writers is George Adams.   I cannot find too much information about him other than he is working on a music PhD (no specifics), that he is a composer (no further detail) and “plays most string instruments (even guitar) sic and keyboards”.  (An impressive range of skills).

After quoting from the cover of the CD – not the sleeve notes – he delivers his opinion.   For those of a weak disposition, stop reading now………   “I don’t find the music particularly compelling, partly because it doesn’t sound “non-prescriptive” at all.   The novelty of indeterminacy doesn’t save the more straight forward sections from their rather unexceptional material and substance”.

That’s it really.   Ammunition exhausted.   Unlike the other reviewers  Mr. Adams does not review the three sonatas individually.   He refers only to the opening of the seventh so one is left wondering whether his comments apply to all three sonatas or to this one section.   Personally I find this incompleteness to be ambiguous, unsatisfactory and confusing.

For the complete review please enter Reviews of Metier MSV 28544 Eric Craven Piano Sonatas.

Blog Stats

Yesterday I received the 2014 Annual Report from WordPress detailing the blog’s activity over the year.   The following is a selection from the stats provided:

During 2014 the blog was viewed about 1900 times.

There were 4 views on Christmas day!

Curiously there were 111 views on the 4th November.   Why there should be this spike completely eludes me.   This day precedes the (rather splendid) review from ClassicsToday by 2 days and my reporting of the Sheffield University concert was posted on the 22nd October.   Very odd.

Visitors to the site came from 48 different countries.

Most were from the UK and the USA.

Some other countries identified by the stats include: the Netherlands, Brazil, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Croatia, Kyrgyzstan, Puerto Rico and the Republic of Korea.

This has prompted me to consider if the geographical distribution of the sales of the CDs has any correlation to the above.   I doubt if Divine Art generates such data but I will enquire and I will keep you …… posted.

As 2015 beckons with all its unknowns and challenges may I wish you all good health, good fortune, success and contentment.

Myself?   I hope that my underlying chronic dissatisfaction with what I am will continue to motivate me to write more, learn more and understand more.

Album du jour

Until last year John Montanari hosted a music programme on a Massachusetts radio station WFCR-FM.   “One of the best parts of the job”, he says, “has been learning about newer composers and just how broad the classical canon is”.   After reading his review, I wondered to what extent did his broadcasting voice mirror his prose?   He appears to be a very thorough and conscientious reviewer, having listened to the sonatas several times and having studied the sleeve notes before delivering his verdict.

“Yes”, he writes, “they’re abstract, angular and dissonant.   But unlike in more severe modernism (e.g. Carter, Boulez), you can actually hear what the hell is going on.   There’s no way to predict what will happen next, but when it happens, you understand why it did”.

“(Sonata) No. 7 is my favourite.   In five related but well differentiated movements, arranged symmetrically, their moods ranging from jazzy to spectral, it’s a cogent, concise and worthy addition to the latter-day piano sonatas of Prokofiev, Copeland, Tippett and Carter”.

Sonata No. 8 “Here we have at least one foot (one hand?) in the world of Morton Feldman……. for now I don’t mind the ride, I have no idea where I am most of the time…… then by reading the programme notes after a few listens, as is my usual procedure, I found that my disorientation was the intended effect, and that the works’s (sic) seeming randomness was built into its compositional method”.   Obviously Mr. Montanari’s Damascene moment.

Sonata No. 9 “Though the two composers in no way resemble each other, I get the same emotional tug from Craven’s 9th Sonata as I get from Franz Schubert’s final three works in the same genre”.   Schubert?   Now there’s a new label!

To read the full review: https://www.johnmontanari.com/2014/11/17/album-du-jour-mary-dullea-eric-craven-piano-sonatas-7-•-8-•9

This review is from ClassicsToday.com. The reviewer is Jed Distler, his title, “Eric Craven’s Open-Ended (and quite beautiful) Piano Sonatas”. ClassicsToday.com appears to be quite unique amongst its peers as it updates its news and reviews each day. It has also developed a rating system which assesses both performance and sound quality of the CDs that are reviewed. There are quite specific criteria. 10/10 is considered to be …”superior, qualities of unusual merit…. If the performance under review is truly exceptional and is supported by sound that neither artificially enhances, detracts from, nor draws attention away from the music, the critic may award 10/10″.

Mr. Distler is generous with his comments ….”what we hear on these two discs is  fluid, cogent, pianistically idiomatic, alternately energetic and lyrical, and just plain beautiful”. I am appreciative of reviewers such as he who avoid quotidian levels of prose on the one hand and the oracular and sententious on the other.

Sonata No 8, being so radically different and novel, generates difficulties for a critic to construct any review or analysis that carries with it real understanding or insight without him/her (always a him….) having  recourse to the score. Scott McLaughlin’s “necessary” sleeve notes constitute the sole source of written information regarding the compositional and performance processes. I am always fascinated by the labels and references the reviewers attach to this  music.This reviewer hears Messiaen, Boulez and Feldman. Thankfully there is space left for some Craven.

Mary, Alex, Scott, Peter and Stephen will be quite delighted when I inform them of this review especially when they see that our C.D. is so highly regarded as to be included in “a select group of the month’s best recordings”. To read this review:http://www.classicstoday.com/review/eric-cravens-open-ended-quite-beautiful-piano-sonatas/

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