Frederic Chiu Plays Gurdjieff/de Hartmann

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

After a long hiatus, Frederic Chiu seems to be recording regularly again. His latest project is devoted to G.I. Gurdjieff/Thomas de Hartmann piano music collaborations—quite a change from Chiu’s 1990s Harmonia Mundi heyday. The music melodically derives from Middle Eastern traditions, although the harmonic language has a distinct late-19th-century Russian flavor. While the generally reflective tone and slow moving, chorale-like textures pose no great technical demands, Chiu’s sensitive and thoughtfully shaped interpretations lend interest to music that otherwise might pass for New Age noodling.

Chiu alternates his program between Hymns and either Chants and Dances. Composer/pianist Michael Harrison developed tunings used for the Chants and Dances that apparently reflect ancient traditions, although these traditions are not specified. For the Hymns, Chiu opts for a piano tuned in conventional equal temperament. The dry engineering and ambience, however, is not to my taste. This music benefits from the more ample resonance and wider dynamic range distinguishing Alain Kremski’s complete Gurdjieff/de Hartmann recordings issued by Naïve/Astrée, which only enhances those performances’ added vibrancy and intensity. Compare, for example, Bayaty, where Chiu’s intimately scaled phrasing differs from Kremski’s more spacious, fuller-bodied touch.

And there are textural differences, too. To give one example, in the Sayyid Chant and Dance Kremski apreggiates the left hand accompanying chords in the manner of a recitative. By contrast, Chiu sustains the tones with undulating, drone-like tremolos that make the music more active, less static. For a single disc Gurdjieff/de Hartmann sampling, Chiu provides a subtler alternative to Keith Jarrett’s 1980 ECM recital. However, the Kremski cycle remains top choice, and its absence from the catalog is regrettable.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Complete Piano Music: Kremski (Naïve/Astrée)

  • Frederic Chiu (piano)

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