What do Handel and Rameau have in common with Morton Feldman and Helmut Lachenmann? Very little at first glance: the former represents the decorous formality of Baroque dance music; the latter a thoroughly 20th-century modernism. Yet the composers who sit at two ends of the music history form a logical symbiosis on a new recording called "Baroque Conversations," by the Israeli-born, Juilliard-educated pianist David Greilsammer.
As the title indicates, this collection explores stylistic links between 12 different Baroque and contemporary compositions, which are clustered together into four groups. Greilsammer is a young, entrepreneurial character, who also runs his own New York chamber orchestra, the Suedama Ensemble (its name is Amadeus spelled backwards), and plays recitals in a London jazz haunt, the 100 Club. He believes that through unusual juxtapositions, "it's my hope to discover secret, unsuspected bridges" in three centuries of music.
Some bridges are more apparent than others. Heard back to back, Rameaus’s Gavotte et Six Doubles and Morton Feldman’s Piano Piece (1964) share an elegance and transparency, despite the many obvious differences otherwise. Padre Antonio Soler (1729-1783) rounds out the first group of three pieces with D-major Sonata that is reminiscent of Scarlatti in its brisk elegance.
Francois Couperin’s Les Barricades mysterieuses (1717) is a joyous rondo that Greilsammer pairs with Whaam!, a dissonant and effectively titled character piece by the young Israeli composer Matan Porat. A suite of Handel dances follows.
Other combos mix intricate polyphonic works by Froberger and Gibbons with murailles rougies (2011) by Nimrod Sahar, a piece that requires the pianist to place rubber erasers between the piano strings; and a Frescobaldi toccata and a Sweelinck organ transcription with Helmut Lachenmann’s Wiegenmusik (Cradle Music) of 1963.
Even if not every connection is readily apparent, Greilsammer keeps you engaged with his thoughtful approach.
David Greilsammer, piano