At Roulette, Lisa Moore In a Bracing Survey Of Contemporary Piano Fare

United StatesUnited States  Gosfield, Mazzoli, Rzewski, Lang, Bresnick: Lisa Moore (piano), So Percussion, Roulette, Brooklyn. 16.11.2011 (BH)

Annie Gosfield: Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers (2008)
Missy Mazzoli: Orizzonte (2004)
Frederic Rzewski: To His Coy Mistress (1988)
Annie Gosfield: Brooklyn October 5, 1941 (1997)
David Lang: Wed (1995)
Martin Bresnick: Willie’s Way (2006)
Martin Bresnick: Three movements from Caprichos Enfáticos (2007)

At the newly minted Roulette, and with a cauldron of well-chosen works (some from two new recordings), Lisa Moore showed why she is one of the most sought-after advocates for contemporary piano music. And her skills don’t stop at the keyboard; many of these works, written for her, call on her considerable skills in other areas. She is anything but a traditional pianist.

Evoking an old term for telegraph operators, Annie Gosfield’s Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers asks the pianist to play two keyboards, one a sampler first with sounds of altered piano detritus, and later with those of machine noises Gosfield collected from Nuremberg, Germany. Moore, for whom the piece was written, plays it as a dazzling confluence of the old and the new, often with a hand simultaneously on each keyboard. And just before intermission came a ferocious reading of what has arguably become a Gosfield “greatest hit”: Brooklyn October 5, 1941, in which the pianist pounds and rolls the keys with baseballs – even donning a baseball glove to strike the piano’s interior strings.

Venice was the inspiration for Missy Mazzoli’s Orizzonte, whose title reflects the city’s unique meeting of the sky and sea, where there seems to be no dividing line. Here Mazzoli deploys sine waves, which combine with the piano as if in a serene postcard, and Moore gave it lucid intensity. Similar simplicity (not to be confused with “simple”) informs David Lang’s Wed, written for a friend who died, but not before marrying her boyfriend – while still in her hospital bed. (Lang noted its blend of “optimism and misery.”) And Frederic Rzewski’s To His Coy Mistress, for speaking pianist, is a touching setting of the poem by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) with music that begins languidly, then grows more animated. In each of these, Moore maintained that precarious balance between delicacy and raw strength.

With roots in Cream’s version of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” Martin Bresnick’s “Willie’s Way” is a relatively lighthearted blues exercise, with Moore snapping her fingers and smacking her body while playing. In contrast, Bresnick’s Caprichos Enfáticos comes from Goya’s dark etchings on war (some of which were projected overhead, designed by Johanna Bresnick) and the music is bruising. “Estragos de la Guerra” uses four sets of snare drums, whose sharp strokes erupt like gunfire. Vibes, sleigh bells and a metal pipe give an eerie cast to “Estrana Devocion (“Strange Devotion”) and in “Farandula de Populacho” (“Farandole of the Rabble”), enormous bass drums combine with struck wooden boards in stark complicity. For these powerful excerpts – the work has eight movements – Moore was joined by the superb So Percussion quartet, and the vivid results made one eager to hear the entire piece, which has just been released on a new recording (on Cantaloupe).

Bruce Hodges