Alexandra Sostmann’s Renaissance-Contemporary Connection

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Working in a record store (remember those?) you could learn about some intriguing couplings of taste–some more, some less obvious. Hard rock and romantic music (Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Wagner) is perhaps the most noticeable. Another one is early music (up to, but not necessarily including Bach) and contemporary music (often coupled with an interest in mathematics). Therefore, it’s no surprise when discs like pianist Alexandra Sostmann’s most recent album come along, coupling William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons with Oliver Knussen, John Tavener, et al., bookending it with two of Bach’s most austere pieces, the Ricercare a 3 and 6 voci from his Musical Offering.

It’s a smart, wholly pleasant mix, no less enjoyable for not being particularly novel. Oliver Knussen’s Prayer bell sketch, in memory of Tōru Takemitsu, picks up on the austerity, while John Tavener (Lord’s Prayer; In memory of my two cats; Zodiacs), like John Adams, represents the sweeter side of modernism: (faux-) spiritual the former, unideological-humane the latter. In small doses, thus embedded, they add a comforting calm, not syrup. Even-toned and conveying a natural sense of pulse, Sostmann works her way from there to Byrd’s Pavan and Galliard.

Of the above-mentioned couplings of taste, jazz and classical music is conspicuously and surprisingly absent for some reason, united perhaps more by a taste for high-brow music than a genuine thirst for musical form. Sostmann, however, does love both genres, and asked composer Markus Horn to write an “improvisation” on the Byrd Pavan–a pleasant surprise in that it does not “jazz it up” in obvious ways (no offense to the wonderful Jacques Loussier) but rather through intractable syncopations and rhythmic shifts.

And so the album continues, via Adams’ China Gates (a musical palindrome at the center of the CD’s program, which itself is organized like a palindrome), Gibbons, more Tavener, Xiaoyong Chen’s atmospheric Diary VI (also written for Sostmann; harking back a little to Knussen’s piece), and Bach again. Whereas a dark, ferociously intellectual air hovers over an album like Marino Formenti’s hugely impressive Kurtag’s Ghosts, the result here is sunnier, more easily digestible, yet never banal nor pianistically less remarkable. Intelligent notes in the form of an interview with the artist round out a very happy listening experience.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Bach, Byrd, Gibbons + Contemporary Music

J. S. BACH: Musical Offering--Ricercare a 3 & a 6 voci
OLIVER KNUSSEN: Prayer bell sketch
JOHN TAVENER: The Lord’s Prayer; In memory of my two cats; Zodiacs
WILLIAM BYRD: Pavan and Galliard MB52
MARKUS HORN: Piece after Byrd
JOHN ADAMS: China Gates
ORLANDO GIBBONS: Pavan and Galliard Lord Salisbury

  • Alexandra Sostmann (piano)

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