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Ramey's music is serious, in fact some would say a little too serious too often. Certainly on this disc, humour and happiness are in short supply and I would therefore not recommend listening to the entire disc in one sitting. The pieces are uncompromising and seventy-seven minutes of this music may be a little too much for some ears! Ramey's piano writing style is sometimes viciously angular -- toccata-like pieces seem to be a favourite genre of his. His harmonic language is mostly atonal and polytonal harmonies shifting chromatically often accompany his stark toned subjects. Prokofiev and Bartók have left an imprint in his style.
For me, The Piano Sonata No 2 (1966, revised 2003) is the best work on the disc. Both his teachers, Tcherepnin and Copland, saw problems with the sonata in its original state so Ramey put it aside until 2003. The sonata is cast in three movements and contains all the essential Ramey signatures. The first movement
[listen -- track 15, 0:00-1:15]
begins with an intriguing mysterious first subject with a lovely contrasting second. Polytonal chords dominate a highly atmospheric night music of the second movement and the third movement is one of Ramey's most powerful toccata movements. A more reflective second theme contrasts the movement and the work ends with a move back to the night music of the second movement. This recording is in fact the world première performance of the work
[listen -- track 16, 0:53-1:18].
The disc begins with Color Etudes (1994). As you might expect, each study is a character piece where each of the various colours suggests different textures. The work begins and ends with dark, moody purple and black pieces. Ramey honours Tcherepnin in 'Purple'
[listen -- track 1, 0:00-0:51]
where he uses the cantus theme from his Fourth Symphony. The music is generally sombre although there are some lighter lyrical moments. Angular writing, toccata and agitated music relives some of Bartók's most strenuous music.
Copyright © 10 February 2008
Anthony Davie, Newcastle UK