MusicWeb International

March 2018

Reed Tetzloff: Sounds of Transcendence

MusicWeb International

Sounds of Transcendence
Charles GRIFFES (1884-1920)
 Piano Sonata A.85 [14:11]
 The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, A.72 [8:57]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
 Vales in A flat, Op.38 [6:09]
 Fragilité, Op.51 No.1 [2:12]
 Enigme, Op.52 No.2 [1:26]
 Piano Sonata No.7, Op.64 – “White Mass” [13:47]
 Vers la Flamme, Op.72 [5:42]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
 Prelude, Choral et Fugue [19:17]
 Reed Tetzloff (piano)
 rec. 2017, Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, New York
ROMÉO RECORDS 7323 [72:09]


Adopting the numbering created by Donna Anderson in her 1984 catalogue  of Charles Griffes’ work, Reed Tetzloff gives us the three movement  Piano Sonata (A.85) of 1917-1919 and the single movement piece The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Kahn (A.72) of 1912. For a composer who died in his mid-30s and produced (in  Anderson’s catalogue) a total of 140 works, most of them songs, Griffes  has attracted a considerable amount of interest from American scholars,  but his impressionistic and often mystic language has not attracted  similar numbers of pianists. An entire programme of Griffes might be a  bit ambitious for a debut disc from a little-known American pianist, so  it certainly makes good sense to pair his piano music with that of his  Russian contemporary, Alexander Scriabin, although I am not so sure  about the logic of including the César Franck work. But this is a debut  disc, and Reed Tetzloff is clearly very passionate about the Franck  work, and presents what is unquestionably a fabulous performance of it,  so we can overlook any incongruity in the programming.

 As this is a debut disc, a few words of introduction about Reed  Tetzloff would be appropriate. He himself introduces the music in a  sensible booklet essay, and adds copious dedications which extend beyond  teachers and family to friends and even the sound engineer, Ryan  Streber – who has engineered a sound which is so immediate and forward  that the phrase in-your-face leaps to mind. Born in 1992 in Minneapolis,  Tetzloff has run the usual gauntlet of teachers and competitions,  winning (in 2011) the concerto class at the Beijing Festival and in 2015  winning through to the semi-finals at the International Tchaikovsky  Competition. With this debut disc he is throwing down a gauntlet all of  his own, and one which sets him apart from the great mass of young  pianists who, on paper, seem his equal.

 Who, in their right mind, would present Griffes as the headline act on  their debut disc? The music is complex, the idiom elusive, and the  range of interpretative possibilities vast. Yet from the very decisive  gestures which open the Sonata, it is clear that Tetzloff has thought  long and hard about the music, has taken possession of it, and, with the  kind of opulent technique we regard as pretty near obligatory in young  pianists today, delivers a performance of immense individuality and  conviction. Here, that full sound engineered by Ryan Streber, reveals  every nuance, every small detail of Tetzloff’s playing; and everything  feels considered, controlled and, above all, convincing. Big waves of  sound, small intimate whisperings, intricate inner balances and florid  passagework all combine to create a most extraordinarily assured  performance of an equally assured work. Better known in its later  orchestral manifestation, Tetzloff’s account of the original piano solo  version of The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan captures the  remoteness and atmospheric beauty of the piece, but it does highlight a  tendency to over-pedal, allowing generous pedal usage to cloud the  texture a little too much. This is only exacerbated by this very closely  miked recording.

 If the Griffes works showed Tetzloff very much taking possession of  rarely trodden territory, ploughing an interpretative furrow which  delves down to the very heart of the music, he is also thoroughly imbued  with the idiom of Scriabin, capturing the thrusting, surging waves of  feeling, the opulent sound world and the touches of extreme delicacy. He  presents a delightfully nostalgic performance of the Valse, its Chopinesque touches all beautifully integrated into a most fulsome and expansive performance. Tetzloff himself describes Vers la Flamme as “volcanic” and his performance lives up to the promise. Between the two we have the delicate little flights of fancy in Enigme as a kind of delicate moment of repose before the white heat of the  Seventh Sonata. The turbulent opening gestures, which seem to dissolve  as soon as they flare up, the fragmentary themes which stir up all  manner of passions which, once again, fade away almost as soon as they  appear, and the fragile grip on the reality of tonality, all combine to  create a work to which a sense of coherence is at best elusive. Yet one  senses that Tetzloff is looking way beyond the minutiae of the music,  and he delivers a performance as visionary and unified as anyone could  reasonably expect.

 We might expect Franck’s Prelude, Choral et Fugue to sound  positively conservative in such exotic (not to say erotic) company, but  not a bit of it. Tetzloff sinks his teeth into Franck’s major piano solo  work with gusto, highlighting its almost impressionistic leanings and  its emotional intensity in a way which seems positively sensual. Always  tantalisingly poised with the main theme never once failing to soar out  ecstatically, Tetzloff maintains a powerful sense of the overall  architecture. In the Prelude that heavy right foot on the pedal does  become obtrusive. I can understand that the intention is to evoke a vast  quasi-ecclesiastical acoustical space, but with the piano placed so far  forward in the sonic spectrum, it fills all the space leaving the pedal  simply to blur the edges.

Marc Rochester

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