Conceptions of the Concept Album

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The mark of a well-constructed album is that its individual parts form a greater whole, each work elevated through the connections made with adjacent tracks. Tune in this week on Hammered! for five such albums, each curated by a different holistically minded and endlessly creative pianist.  

This whole idea started because of Jeremy Denk's recent Ligeti / Beethoven release on Nonesuch, a record pairing the complete Etudes of Gyorgy Ligeti and the final piano sonata of Ludwig van Beethoven that is so thoughtfully constructed, so brilliantly performed, that it sent us hunting for others. Denk's new CD streams in its entirety on Friday, but first we explore the programmatic insights of pianists Jenny Lin and Peter Serkin.

Lin's "The Eleventh Finger" explores recent technical and sonic expansions of the instrument through some of the gnarliest, most innovative repertoire of the past 20 years, much of which was written for Lin and premiered on this recording. You'll hear music of Arthur Kampala, Randy Nordschow, James Tenney, Elliott Sharp, Gyorgy Ligeti and Claude Vivier.

Serkin's "The Ocean Has No West And No East" is simply extraordinary. There is such continuity and communication between the works on this disc, and despite each work's individual genius, the resonance each creates among its surrounding music is what heightens the album's impact. After opening with the classic Variations by Anton Webern, Serkin moves through music by Olivier Messiaen, Toru Takemitsu, Oliver Knussen and others, before closing with the Bagatelle of Charles Wuorinen

Before Denk's disc on Friday, also tune in for a brilliantly constructed set of piano pieces by Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Schubert by the pianist Thomas Larcher, and on Thursday, a disc by the wonderful pianist Leif-Ove Andsnes.

What are your "concept albums" of choice, pianistic or other?