Classical Music

A terrific, varied recital of contemporary piano works by South African composers from pianist, Renée Reznek on a new release from Prima Facie

A terrific, varied recital of contemporary piano works by South African composers from pianist, Renée Reznek on a new release from Prima Facie


Given the relative
lack of exposure that the music of South African contemporary composers receive,
a new release from Prima Facie
From My Beloved Country featuring
pianist, Renée Reznek
, is especially welcome.
Renée Reznek was born in South Africa and studied with Adolf
Hallis, a pupil of Tobias Mattay. She later studied with Lamar Crowson, graduating
with distinction from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Music
degree. She subsequently received a scholarship to study with Gyorgy Sandor at
the University of Michigan, USA.
Reznek made her London debut in the Park Lane Group’s series Young Artists and Twentieth Century Music, playing Debussy,
Schoenberg and a new piece written for her by Robert Saxton. She has received
critical acclaim for her playing and for her adventurous programming and was
much praised for her Wigmore Hall recital of the complete solo piano music of
Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. She has performed throughout Britain, Europe and
South Africa, giving solo recitals as well as performing concerti and chamber
Renée Reznek commissioned Neo Muyanga’s Hade, TaTa (Sorry
Father) (2013)
in honour of Nelson Mandela and to celebrate the 20th
anniversary of the first democratic elections in South Africa. Born in Soweto,
heir to a long line of musicians, Muyanga draws on traditional Sesotho and Zulu
music fused with Ethiopian melismatic style, jazz and western classical music. Hade, TaTa has a slow thoughtful opening
that expands through some fine harmonies, soon brightening, finding little
rhythmic variations that make the music skip along with a fine melody running
through. There are passages of greater breadth that bring lovely sonorities
before the music returns to its gentler nature, developing into a bluesy tune with
Reznek bringing a lovely, subtle touch.
Kevin Volans’ PMB Impromptu (2014) celebrates a
shared birthplace, referencing both African and Western European traditions,
sometimes humorously. A fast, delicate motif appears over which notes are laid
with varying rhythmic patterns as the music develops between both hands, stunningly
played here. The piece is continually developing through some fine sonorities
before a slow, gentle coda.
Volans’ Garden of Forking Paths (2014) proceeds
at a mesmeric, meditative pace, opening with gentle harmonies, this pianist
finding the most lovely touch as the music subtly and slowly develops. There
are some gorgeous harmonies, creating a lovely remote atmosphere.
Michael Blake’s Broken Line (2015) is influenced by
Eastern Cape bow music and exudes a vitality which evokes Africa. A staccato
rhythmic motif opens, quickly varying and occasionally finding broader
passages, though always retaining the same basic idea. Throughout, the music
varies in tempo and harmonies, a terrific exercise in writing around a simple unchanging
theme.  Blake’s Seventh Must Fall (2016)
is equally minimalist, a response to protests at South African
Universities. A melancholy descending theme is gently taken forward. As it
progresses it becomes subtly slower, an effect that only serves to add to the
Rob Fokkens’ delicately
minimalist Five Miniatures (2007) also relate to Xhosa bow traditions as
well as Western European style. The opening miniature follows the preceding
track beautifully with a slow intricately thoughtful theme. The next is a
faster, rhythmically pointed theme that darts around before rising upwards at
the end. Another quiet and gentle, yet animated, piece follows before rapid arpeggios
sound out brilliantly. The fifth and final miniature brings a gentle
conclusion, a gentle rhythmic sway that is interrupted by a faster idea.
Hendrik Hofmeyr is
an Afrikaans composer who went into voluntary exile, only returning to South
Africa at the end of apartheid. His Partita Africana I. Preludio II. (2006) includes
fragments of San music. The rich, rolling chords that open are soon interrupted
by a hushed gentle theme. The chords develop each time, increasing in strength
only to fall to a quieter, thoughtful section that develops through a rather
lovely, sad passage. The music rises in strength before its conclusion, now
interrupted by the quieter theme. Hofmeyr’s
Umsindo (2006)
brings an offset rhythmic idea that is developed through broader passages, finding
some lovely harmonies, always retaining the irregular rhythms. There are some
terrific repeated phrases before a sudden declamatory conclusion.
Peter Klatzow’s Barcarolle (Arnold Schoenberg in Venice) (2005),
which quotes from Schoenberg, does
not draw on African influences. It brings a gently rocking theme through which Klatzow
weaves some fine melodic lines, developing through some impressive bars with
moments of great beauty, exquisitely brought out by Reznek. There are passages
of increased strength and passion before finding a quiet close.
David Earl’s Song Without Words (2014) has an
attractive, light and carefree quality, a simple beauty of its own, this
pianist shaping it to perfection. Earl’s
Barcarolle (2014)
brings a slow
opening that seems to have a deeper undercurrent. It proceeds through some
lovely broad passages, developing a fine melody. Later there is a moment of
quieter hesitation before the music regains its breadth as it moves through
some very fine harmonies and textures, falling to lead to a lovely little coda that,
nevertheless, ends on a decisive flourish.

David Kosviner’s Mbira
Melody II (2016)
is reminiscent of kalimba (an African instrument with a
wooden board with staggered metal keys) music across the continent, bringing a repeated,
rhythmic motif around which ideas grow, a melodic theme emerging. The opening
idea continues as the melody expands over the rhythmic line, Renée Reznek
bringing a great clarity. Eventually the melody takes on the rhythmic nature of
the repeated idea. A joyous piece to end this terrific, varied recital. 

This is a welcome opportunity to hear contemporary South
African piano works particularly in such fine performances. The recording is rather
close but reveals much detail. There are useful booklet notes.


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