Piano Music of Ricky Ian Gordon: DailyClassicalMusic.com, 2011

Charming and Lively

Ricky Ian Gordon is perhaps best known for his opera, The Grapes of Wrath based on Steinbeck’s novel. Here we have him working on a smaller scale. John Nauman’s recital puts together four of Ricky Ian Gordon’s works for solo piano and concludes with a wonderful jeu d’esprit for piano four hands.

Five Dances for Solo Piano consists of five different dance movements assembled into a varied and satisfying whole. Opening with a lively but subtle tango, we then move to a waltz with more than a hint of French polish about it. Then a lively, jazz influenced piece called Bear Dance which relates to the Iroquois nation.

The Barcarolle is a leisurely but serious affair with links to a friend dying of AIDS and influenced by Britten’s Death in Venice written in 5/4. Finally the virtuosic Joy. Gordon’s music is melodic with challenging undertones, his piano writing is rhythmically complex and taxing. Bear Dance is notated on three staves and has echoes of Stravinsky.

Then follows the breezy and delightful miniature, Desire Rag.

The Caste System is a dance commission from the early 80s, though the work is laid out in classical sonata form. The rhythmic first movement has many Stravinskian echoes, with some of the complexity evoking Stravinsky’s own transcriptions of movements from Petrushka.

The lovely second movement, Very Slow and Hesitant, forms a nicely still slow centrepiece.

Finally jazzy elements re-surface in the closing movement, marked ‘Mechanically’.

Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice is a song-cycle, a chamber mini-opera. The four-minute piano solo They Dance comes from act one of the work.

Then finally the wonderful Ring-a-Ding-Ding where Nauman is joined at the piano by the CD’s producer and engineer, with the composer adding the verbal interjections.

Nauman plays Ricky Ian Gordon’s piano music consummately, disguising the difficulties and nicely balancing the melodic and rhythmic elements. The CD comes with booklet notes written by Nauman which are nicely informative, but rather presume a knowledge of Ricky Ian Gordon’s life and work.

A charming and lively disc which shows that approachable contemporary music can be thought-provoking and entertaining.

– Robert Hugill, DailyClassicalMusic.com, 21 July 2011