A 21st-Century New Zealand Piano Landscape

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Landscape Preludes consists of 12 piano pieces composed between 2003 and 2007 by 12 different composers from New Zealand. They were commissioned by the New Zealand-based pianist Stephen De Pledge, who also gave their premieres. Their first CD recording, however, features another pianist, Henry Wong Doe, a New Zealand native based in the United States. While the works draw inspiration from different aspects of New Zealand’s varied and colorful landscape, you don’t have to know that to approach the music on its own terms–with perhaps one exception: Jack Body’s The Street Where I Live, which superimposes a steadily intoned spoken text on top of the piano writing. To be honest, the “speaking pianist” genre works best when the vocal and instrumental components interact and give each other space; here, however, the unvarying consistency of the spoken part becomes predictable and fatiguing. But the selections are appreciably varied, well crafted for piano, and offer much of interest.

Gillian Whitehead’s Arapatiki weaves together Messiaen-like dissonance and bare-bones triadic harmony, while Ross Harris’ sparser Piano Prelude mainly occupies the keyboard’s higher register. Protracted, spacious writing is interspersed with brilliant virtuosic flourishes in Lyle Cresswell’s Chiaroscuro. On one level Gareth Farr’s A Horizon from Owhiro Bay is a rambling tribute to Debussy’s Pagodes, yet some listeners will warm to its accessible language and communicative immediacy. Dylan Lardelli claims Reign to be inspired by Bach’s polyphony, but you wouldn’t know that from its lively yet austere and not particularly charming idiom.

The delicate sound world of Eve De Castro-Robinson’s This Liquid Drift of Light unfolds with shapely deliberation, leading to a climax so carefully orchestrated that it sounds louder and texturally fuller than it is. While I appreciate the narrative energy of Samuel Holloway’s Terrain vague, I’m less enamored of its seemingly static use of clusters. At first John Psathas’ Sleeper struck me as a kinder, gentler, and far shorter rewrite of John Adams’ Phrygian Gates, yet its repeated phrases and harmonic trajectory are anything but formulaic.

After Michael Norris’ lean and percussive Machine Noises comes Jenny McLeod’s Tone Clock Piece XVIII–Landscape Prelude, whose lyrical, introspective episodes hold more appeal than its rather arid climaxes.Victoria Kelly’s Goodnight Kiwi brings the collection to a close. It’s a lovely, lyrical piece featuring floating paragraphs built from widely spaced intervals, soft cloud-like chords, lulling repeated phrases supported by changing harmonies, and attention-getting moments of silence.

In his booklet notes, Doe mentions that he learned the pieces quickly, and without referring to De Pledge’s recordings (available on YouTube). He certainly seems to have mastered the notes and assimilated the music to the highest standards. No doubt that other composers are lined up at Doe’s door.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Landscape Preludes

Various Composers and Works

  • Henry Wong Doe (piano)

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