It is not necessarily a compliment to call an artist eclectic. If stylistic influences are too far afield and a core philosophy does not emerge, then there can be no sense of individuality. This line is crossed all too often in our post-modern age, in which pastiche can serve as no substitute for true substance. David Rakowski, a New England native and currently a professor of composition at Brandeis, applies his brand of eclecticism from the inside out, adding, as a crucial element, a kind of sly wit that leads program annotator Hayes Biggs to compare the young composer to Haydn. His intellectually lively and expressive Etudes, which he seems to dash off as if they were pages of a daily journal, frequently touch on some aspect of our modern life, with references to boogie-woogie, Jimi Hendrix, and baseball, but also to Debussy, Bach and Mozart -- all in a kind of deconstructionist way. The music is clever, but not in a completely self-referential way. Rakowski may have a sense of humor, but a thoughtful manner pervades all of his music as well.
Amy Dissanayake, a protege of Ursula Oppens, brings fire and beauty to this fascinating material, and Bridge provides its usual fine production values. In all, a worthwhile introduction to an invigorating new American voice. -- Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine, September-October, 2003.
In David Rakowski's Locking Horns, the primacy of French-horn soloist Daniel Grabois is established only through great effort, and is challenged all the way by an aggressive fellow horn player in the ensemble. -- Steve Smith, Time Out New York, November 20-27, 2003.
"Locking Horns" by David Rokowski (sic) sounds a little like warmed-over Zappa, who himself can sound like warmed over Varese. -- online review, amazon.com, December 14, 2003.
Next on the program is a horn concerto by David Rakowski. Again we hear a debt to Ligeti, particularly in Rakowski's decision to play the solo instrument against a counterpart in the ensemble, a technique Ligeti has used in all of his concertos except for the Piano Concerto. The five movements of Rakowski's piece are all based on the same basic melodic idea, a (sort of) 12-tone lick that he treats to Schoenbergian processes of developing variation. He is an expert orchestrator and crafts textures of remarkable subtlety and clarity; he is also an extremely funny guy (he taught me score preparation in college, and kept us laughing the whole time) and this shows in the music, especially when he makes fun of typical horn idioms. -- Ian Quinn, American Record Guide, January-February, 2004.
David Rakowski's 'Locking Horns,' is essentially a five movement concerto for horn and a chamber ensemble consisting of seven winds (including another horn who shadows the soloist and sometimes 'locks horns'), two percussionists and string quintet. It is written in a mélange of styles from Webern to what sounds like free improvisation. To be quite honest, this piece, in spite of several rehearings, did not speak to me at all. My deficiency, I suspect. That said, it is very well played; Daniel Grabois is the fine horn soloist. -- online review, amazon.com, January 19, 2004.
There was much to enjoy, and much to dislike ... A new work, David Rakowski's Dream Symphony, proved less interesting. The work had some softness and elegance that complemented (sic) the string ensemble, but generally failed to deliver the musical goods. Waiting for development, instead we found introspection. Looking for insight, instead we found confusion. Davenny Wyner dragged the most out of the score, but in the end no substance could be ascertained. There was some great playing: solos in the first violin (concertmaster Greg Vitale), first violist Lisa Suslowicz, and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer. In the end, however, it amounted to nothing. -- Keith Powers, Boston Herald, February 1, 2004.
There was a lot of music in town that Sunday, and of a much higher quality than what CBS/MTV offered at the Super Bowl ... I didn’t stay for the BSO Brahms, choosing to forgo a repeat of the Fourth Symphony in order to hear the second half of Susan Davenny Wyner’s New England String Ensemble at Jordan Hall. I caught the last two movements of the world premiere of David Rakowski’s Dream Symphony, an Allegro giocoso (which I tried to hear from the lobby) and a serious, moody Adagio assai. More than a century after Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, it’s still unusual for a symphony to end with a slow movement. It made me want to hear the whole piece. -- Lloyd Schwartz, Boston Phoenix, February 13-19, 2004.
The Carter is complimented (sic) by three recent chamber concertos involving different and changing relationships between soloist and ensemble. ... in David Rakowski's "Locking Horns" the horn gradually emerges from the ensemble as an eloquent soloist. ... These three pieces, excellently performed and vividly recorded, complete a well planned and invigorating programme. -- Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine, April 2004.
Both David Rakowski and Thea Musgrave also tinker with the juxtaposition of soloist and group in their respective offerings. Rakowski's Locked Horns (2002) (sic) is a horn concerto in which the horn soloist is only gradually revealed to actually be the soloist. It starts out as a member of the ensemble, contending with the orchestra's horn player and various other ensemble members who try to assert themselves and take center stage. It is only at the end that the horn soloist (in a valiant performance here by Daniel Grabois) effectively vanquishes his rivals and comes to the fore. Rakowski, a professor at Brandeis University, always seems to create energetic music with an attractive pitch language and forceful dramatic thrust. Locked Horns (sic) is no exception. -- Christian Carey, Splendidzine, March 29, 2004.
Pianist Amy Dissanayake rounded out the program with a selection of fascinating piano etudes by Ligeti and Rakowski--music that's fast, jittery, utterly original and literally made to order for a new-music virtuoso such as herself. -- John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, April 20, 2004.
In addition, BMOP Music Director Gil Rose - who in less than a decade here has become one of the most important musicians in this city - led his marvelous orchestra in two earlier works: Elena Ruehr's luminous 1989 "Sky Above Clouds'' and David Rakowski's powerful 1997 "Persistent Memory.'' -- T.J. Medrek, Boston Herald, May 23, 2004.
David Rakowski's "Persisent Memory" (sic) is basically an elegy, both collective and individual; the music transforms into many emotions but always cradles its origins within it. This is an eloquent and beautiful piece. -- Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, May 26, 2004.
David Rakowski's top-notch violin/cello duo Twofer is cleverly and satisfyingly constructed, delineating an ABAB format whose brief outer sections contrast greatly in tempo and mood, leaving the two central portions to develop these truncated bookends extensively. Common to all are snatches of octave materials, which neatly impart overall unity. -- David Cleary, New Music Connoisseur, Spring-Summer 2004.
Another reader pointed the way to David Rakowski's site, which gives a hilarious and harrowing picture of the pedantic gobbledygook that still infuses composition classes at some American universities. Imagine the expletives Mozart might have spat out if you'd told him to "keep all registers active." Rakowski also has a Lexicon with definitions for "Lenny's Revenge" ("Contemporary concert music that sounds like warmed-over Bernstein, especially ze mambo from ze Vest Side Story") and "Dogma Breath" ("A person with an overdeveloped sense of Manifesto Destiny"). Wise and funny stuff. -- Alex Ross, therestisnoise.com, August 17, 2004.
It's a bit embarrassing to admit, but as a longtime Left Coast dweller I'd never even heard of David Rakowski until a moment ago. But
in my defense I'd be willing to bet that most New Yorkers aren't familiar with, say, Pablo Ortiz, Cindy Cox, David Soley, or the like. So, needless to say, this new Albany release [Martian Counterpoint] is my first encounter with Rakowski's music, and if I were going to infer anything from the titles bestowed upon his compositions, my guess would be that this guy is a total goofball, or at least harbors some strange affinity towards Babbitt's bon mot titles. Silliness aside, that thrill of unknowing built into each and every first experience—which, by the way, I love and who wouldn't?—was, in this instance, actually overshadowed by the power-grip of Rakowski's piano writing. Besides, even though I feel that Rakowski's compositions deserve better, it's the composer's prerogative, and I'm more than willing to forgive ridiculous titles as long as the music they’re attached to is good enough to rise above. By the way, the music is fantastic.
The disc kicks off with Rakowski's Etude #33, a.k.a. Sliding Scales—insert smirk—an idiomatic swirl of, what else, scale passages that surpasses mere finger exercise by miles and then some. This colorful cloudburst is followed by the tentative The Third, Man, a plausible atmospheric accompaniment to those very words uttered by a couch potato trippin' on shrooms, man. Which leads me to wonder, what
the hell was Rakowski on when he decided to write a concerto for 10 clarinets and wind ensemble?
No matter, because the centerpiece of this disc, Ten of a Kind, delves into its homogenous instrumentation with a lengthy, atmospheric Adagio surrounded by dense, yet perfectly jaunty tunes. Clarinets continue to hog the spotlight in the temperamental Cerberus for solo clarinet with chamber ensemble and the brief and lyrical Mento—island folk music or freshmaker, hmm? As you contemplate this and the countless other mysteries shrouding Rakowski—okay, I'm joking, but be sure to stick around for a couple more piano etudes that finish off the CD. In the end, if one thing becomes clear, it's this: Rakowski's endearing piano music is pretty damn good. So listen up and enjoy. -- Randy Nordschow, NewMusicBox, September, 2004
David Rakowski is an amazingly inventive composer. This (Martian Counterpoint) is a great sampler of his music, giving 6 of his piano etudes (he has over 60 now), some chamber music and the brilliant “Ten of a Kind” for ten clarinets and wind ensemble. -- GM, CD Hotlist, November, 2004.
The first thing that catches your eye on Bridge's second release dedicated to the piano etudes of David Rakowski is the fanciful, punning names he bestows upon his pieces, among them Sixth Appeal, Boogie Ninths, Taking the Fifths and Bop It! While these hysterical headings bespeak the composer's wicked sense of humor, they also belie the seriousness of the fare within.
Based at Brandeis University and the musical progeny of Milton Babbitt, Rakowski is a composer of seemingly limitless invention. His works, while composed in an atonal idiom, play on riffs and repetition, providing a sort of familiarity. You can almost hear his bulging brain at work as he offers a heartbreaking, angular lyricism one moment, a barn-burning virtuoso knockout the next.
In California-based pianist Amy Dissanayake, a new-music soldier well versed in standard-repertoire fundamentals, Rakowski has found an ideal interpreter. The composer demands extremely complicated rhythms and fast-flying passage-work in all registers of the keyboard; in Dissanayake's capable hands, it all sounds effortless. Her fervid approach to the tricky toccata E-Machines is matched by her restraint in Silent But Deadly, in which she plays as quietly as possible lightning-fast figures that seem like they ought to be loud. Combined, Rakowski and Dissanayake take the listener on a breathtaking tilt-a-whirl ride of high jinks and unexpected turns, without stinting on quiet repose. Rather than new music's typical "strong medicine," the result is a wholly captivating listen. -- Daniel Felsenfeld, Time Out New York, November 11-17, 2004.
Rakowski's insane piano etudes, which include pieces to be played only with thumbs, fists, or with help from the noze, are, technically, "classical music," and they are atonal like much contemporary music. But that doesn't keep them from being really fun and full of quotes from James Brown, Deep Purple, Hendrix, etc. The etudes are here interpreted by one of the best pianists for contemporary music I know of, Amy Dissanyake. The only thing that keeps music like this from being beloved by the indie rock and postrock set is snobbishness about the academy. -- Rick Moody, Dusted features #321, November, 2004.
The zany humor apparent from the titles - The Third, Man is an étude on thirds, Roll Your Own on rolled chords, etc - is also an element of the music, and this is a welcome relief from the terribly, terribly serious aura that surrounds some modern music. The two big ensemble pieces (with groups of clarinets as 'soloist') are closely argued, tautly dynamic structures filled with event and a logical progression of argument, taking in a wide range of emotional territory along the way. Even the brief piano études with their humorous titles display a thorough affinity with the piano and include some gorgeous textures as well as hair-raising excitement and examples of brilliantly written pianistic virtuosity, not so very far removed from the sort of thing familiar to enthusiasts for Rzewski's music, for example. -- Records International catalogue, December, 2004.
While Persistent Memory (1997) by David Rakowski and Aurora (2000) by Augusta Read Thomas have East Coast roots, neither proves anything but wonderful to hear. Rakowski's two movements delineate ternary and variation formats without a hint of stuffiness. The sturdy material is handled here with crafty inspiration, its masterful spinning of seamless counterpoint being only the most obvious manifestation. And while textures are often full, there's never a dense or clogged measure. -- David Cleary, New Music Conoisseur, Fall 2004.
David Rakowski (b. 1958) studied at New England Conservatory with Robert Ceely and John Heiss, at Princeton with Milton Babbitt, Peter Westergaard and Paul Lansky, and at Tanglewood with Berio. He has twice been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and has a long and impressive list of awards and honors. He currently teaches at Brandeis.
This release, titled Martian Counterpoint, opens with two of the six etudes for piano sprinkled throughout this program (Rakowski has composed 60 of them to this point). Debussy is an obvious influence for "Sliding Scales" (an etude on scales) and "The Third Man" (an etude on thirds). "Roll Your Own" is a beautiful rolled chord study. "Twelve-Step Program" is well described as an "etude on chromatic scales and wedges," very imaginative and entertaining. "Fourth of Habit" (built on fourths) is in swingin' bop style, and "Fists of Fury" employs occasional clusters in between figuration of sizzling virtuosity. These etudes are terrific, and I hope a larger sampling of the set will be released soon. Amazing pianist Marilyn Nonken dispatches them with terrifying ease.
Ten of a Kind (2000) is subtitled both Symphony No. 2 and Concerto for Ten Clarinets and Wind Ensemble, with Rakowski following Kalevi Aho in conflating the two historically distinct genres (an apologia for this is given by the annotator in the notes). The clarinet group is treated somewhat like a baroque concertino, with the massed sonority giving the work a strangely hollow glow, but not especially changing the symphonic band color, which is so often dominated by massed clarinet sonority anyway. The piece is in four densely-packed movements. The language is sophisticated academic Americana, intermingling jazz attitude with intricate post-serial machinations. The opening movement ("Labyrinth") is chattering and angular with aviary nods to Messiaen. II. ("Song Stylings"), written first and conaining material for the other movements, is mushy, slow symphonic band lyricism numbingly dull and academic despite the composer's sense for the long line. I can see the captive concert band crowd squirming. III. ("Yoikes and Away") might wake them up -- the opening jazzy section, intensely virtuosic, is followed by a relaxed and fluid trio and then neatly tied up with a complex and eventually sizzling recap. IV. ("Martian Counterpoint") is yet another jazzy scherzo, bringing back previous material and leading to an oddly unassuming conclusion. I'm normally not a fan of the symphonic band literature, but I can easily report that this is a serious and impeccably crafted contribution, though demanding for players and audience alike. I do admire Rakowski's uncompromising stance. The performance by Col. Timothy Foley's US Marine Band is absolutely flawless.
Mento (1995) is a brief three movement set (a short divertimento -- hence the title) for clarinet and piano, written for the composer's talented wife, Beth Wiemann, who plays it here with humor and conviction (I noticed that the timing is off for III. It should read 1:40).
Cerberus (1992) was also written for Ms. Wiemann. It's a triple clarinet concerto in four continuous movements, the three clarinets depicting the mythological multi-headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades. The picture fits well with the long, sinuous lines that form the trios in I. and III.. The remaining musical argument is typically lively and exuberant.
Rakowski's work is skillful and highly impressive, though its often clotted language places considerable demands on listener and performer. He is definitely to be regarded as a leading light for the baby boomer American modernist generation. -- Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide, January-February 2005.
Having responded very favorably to David Rakowski's first volume of études, I can recommend this second installment without hesitation. As with the first set, there are times when a stronger melodic profile might have been welcome, where the music's didacticism gets in the way of sheer expressive nuance, but these are relatively few and far between, and most of this stuff is delightful. There are études based on intervals, such as No. 37 (Taking the Fifths), No. 39 (Sixth Appeal), and No. 32 (Boogie Ninths). E-Machines (No. 1) is a dazzling study in repeated notes; Pollici e mignoli, or The Virus That Ate New York (No. 9) is written for thumbs and pinkies alone, and describes a tiny rhythmic cell that gradually devours the entire melodic line.
Rakowski seems particularly creative when throwing out major challenges to the player's virtuosity (while poking gentle fun at the same time), as in Sliding Scales (No. 33), which title is self-explanatory, Trillage (No. 4), and best of all, No. 38, Silent But Deadly, which tests just how much the player can take while remaining at the softest possible dynamic level. As with the first volume, Amy Dissanayake plays all of this music with commitment and joie de vivre. She sounds like she's having a great time, and her tone never hardens under pressure. Bridge provides its usual excellent sonics, and the notes by the composer are entertaining and useful. It's always a pleasure to hear purposeful contemporary music that has plenty of appeal (and a sense of humor) yet doesn't need to make cheap compromises. Good stuff! -- David Hurwitz, Classics Today, February 2005.
It was just last issue that I asked for more of David Rakowski’s piano etudes. Well, like magic, here they are. Volume 1 was reviewed by David Moore (Bridge 9121: J/A 2003).
This is certainly the most formidable set of piano etudes since Ligeti’s. Bridge now completes its survey of the 60 plus of them to date, all played by this fine pianist, a student of Ursula Oppens and 1999 graduate of Northwestern University. This release covers all of Volume 1 (1988-96) and most of volumes 4 and 5 (2000-2002).
I think one needs to keep in mind that these are etudes (studies) and are not especially intended for extended listening, thought they are programmed in as musical a way as possible. Rakowski is assuredly an American composer, and his music has that brash and raucous side that can wear thin with overexposure. (I don’t think the same issue comes up in the etudes of Chopin, Debussy, or, indeed, Ligeti, where there is such variety of color and expression in every single work.) And Rakowski is an academic American composer, with all the impressive (and perilous) trappings that go along with his Ivy League pedigree. You get at least a part of the picture. For all the sophistication and brilliance, I wish he would allow just a little more air into his work, which does have a tendency to get stuffy.
Many of his best moments are those that take jazz as their basis (stride in IV:40, “free jazz” in I:8, boogie in IV:32, bop in V:41, swing in V:50). These pieces really catch fire and must be a blast in concert. That’s not to say that Rakowski doesn’t have a sensitive and lyrical side: that side comes out particularly well when he’s sharing the rarefied air of the Great Composers of Europe (Wagner in I:3, Debussy in I:7, Schumann in V:48). They are never obviously or crassly quoted, to Rakowski’s credit—only gently and lovingly suggested. (I particularly like V:43’s fantasy on the figure of Bach’s C-minor Prelude, WTC I.)
Sometimes that rarefied air comes directly from American academic halls (maybe not so rarefied there). We get inspirations from the likes of Mario Davidovsky (IV:6 (sic)) Martin Boykan (IV:31), and George Edwards (I:4). Of course those “in the know” will be amused by these little homages, but others might want to move on discreetly to other matters, like the many very effective “interval etudes”, which compare well with Debussy’s classic works in this genre. These make useful and welcome supplements to those Olympian pieces.
I particularly like etudes with mind-boggling virtuosity (that’s mostly what etudes are for, aren’t they?). I direct your attention to the dizzying scale etude (IV:33), the blistering repeated note etude (I:1), or the fiendishly tricky octave etude (I:5). (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Marilyn Nonken’s incredible performance of IV:33 on Albany.) As you can tell from reading this, there’s really something for everybody, and you should find your favorites and mix and match to your taste. It’s a tremendous project, and if you’re a pianist you are strongly advised to take note. All fans of contemporary piano music will definitely want to add these to your collections.
Notes are tremendously detailed and helpful, though some of the congratulatory prose could have been edited out. I enjoy Mr. Rakowski’s sense of humor. Sonics are very up front and a bit jangly sometimes, but it’s impossible to complain about Ms. Dissanayake’s amazing accomplishment. – Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide, March/April 2005.
...Still, it may not be wise to put a spotlight on compositional gamesmanship, as the New York New Music Ensemble did on Monday evening at Merkin Concert Hall in a program it called ''Games People Play.'' Part of the game, after all, is making it not seem like one.
An exception is David Rakowski's ''Two Can Play That Game'' (1995), a duet for bass clarinet and marimba, which at least touches on the subject in its title. Mr. Rakowski's work is like a brisk tennis match: its lines are rhythmically interlocked, with melodic material moving between them. Jean Kopperud, the clarinetist, and Daniel Druckman, the percussionist, kept the work's energy level steady and made the most of the jazz-inflected rhythm that drives the piece. -- Allan Kozinn, New York Times, May 25, 2005.
Rather than modeling the program's final piece explicitly on Ives, David Rakowski based it on instructions for how to write music like Milton Babbitt, offered as graffiti in a men's room at Princeton: "Take jazz chords, make strange." Mr. Rakowski used this as the title of a piece that includes salutes to other American composers, including Lee Hyla and Aaron Copland, in a complicated but light series of movements (each including the label "Americano") for clarinet and string quartet.
They're certainly American, those out-of-towners, the concert was like a folk quilt of references and quotes and styles, although perhaps not one with quite enough bright patches. -- Anne Midgette, New York Times, June 13, 2005.
Pessimists about the future of classical music may be looking in the wrong places. There were empty seats at the Metropolitan Opera's estimable "Aida" on Friday night, but on Saturday, "Powerhouse Pianists" filled the Tenri Cultural Institute to its gills, with standees crowding the rim of this small West Village gallery and hopeful ticket buyers stretching out onto 13th Street. ... Most of this music was fiercely virtuosic: David Rakowski's "E-Machines" a whirl of repeated notes, and Mischa Zupko's "Five Etudes for Piano" Liszt-like in their florid generosity. -- Bernard Holland, New York Times, October 18, 2005.
Only one work could be called new. David Rakowski wrote "Inside Story" this year, while Charles Wuorinen's "Fortune" goes back to 1979. ... Mr. Rakowski's three movements begin with scurrying figures and sharp banging interruptions; they continue with a kind of baritonal nocturne and end with rumbling tremolos and a terribly complicated piano part running beneath them.
Beauty in the feel-good, hedonistic sense was as absent here as it was in Mr. Wuorinen's "Fortune." One could split the evening into two camps. One side says, "The sensuous is still important"; the other, "Here is the news, not all of it pretty." -- Bernard Holland, New York Times, December 21, 2005.
David Rakowski has a keen sense of humor, so much so that he can make you laugh aloud at some of his music. When I reviewed his Études for piano (four (sic) of which are included on the present CD), on the Bridge label, I commented that Rakowski may have a sense of humor, but that a thoughtful manner pervades all of his music as well. The program annotator for that disc, Hayes Biggs, went so far as to compare Rakowski to Haydn in this regard, a remarkable compliment indeed.
That said, Rakowski’s humor, like Haydn’s, is employed in a limited way, and most of the material on this disc is serious stuff, even with titles like Yoikes and Away and Martian Counterpoint . These are both movements from the Symphony No. 2, Ten of a Kind , scored for 10 clarinets and wind ensemble. In this work, Rakowski engages in an introspective, rather dense, uniquely textured language. His music connects to the listener in the manner of a good old-fashioned raconteur; this is the music of someone you might enjoy bellying up to the bar with and having a good natured spat about politics, washed down by a fine microbrew. This work, then, is easy to follow and get a grip on, because of this overtly conversational manner, but it is never condescending or simple. It demands attentive listening.
Rakowski’s wife, Beth Wiemann, not incidentally, is a clarinetist. That instrument, and a whole bunch of other winds, feature prominently in Rakowski’s palette, at least as displayed on this CD. I don’t know whether or not Rakowski has written much music for the voice, but he certainly captures the vocal quality of the clarinet, both in the sprightly choruses of Ten of a Kind and in the more direct dialogues between clarinet and piano in Mento. Cerberus is based on the Greek myth of the three-headed dog who guards Hades, thus, the scoring for three solo clarinetists and small ensemble. The music is mysterious, with suppressed dynamics and textures that seem, oddly, murky and lucid at once. There is, traditionally, considerable drama in the tale of Cerberus , but Rakowski seems more interested in what lies beyond the portal that the beast protects.
Rakowski himself is a pianist (sic), and his Études, an ongoing project with 60 plus set down on paper so far, are his musical diary. They are wonderful pieces, much talked about, and better yet, much played in the new music community. Here is a taste, with the ever-extraordinary Marilyn Nonken, for whom some of the music was expressively written. Nonken plays them with her usual panache and intelligence.
The influence in American new music of composer, teacher, and good-natured spirit David Rakowski is ascending. Hear why -- Peter Burwasser, Fanfare, January-February, 2006.
David Rakowski's ''Dances in the Dark," drawn from a ballet for children, is accessible, energetic, and dodgy. -- Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, February 1, 2006.
You’re sitting at the piano with pen in hand working on a large opus and have suddenly hit a dry patch. So what do you do? If you’re Brandeis University faculty member David Rakowski, you reach for another notebook and write one or more etudes for piano as a palate cleansing exercise. This unusual tactic has in fact paid sizable dividends for both this composer and the piano literature. Numbered currently at six books of ten etudes each plus a few extra, Rakowski has created the most important collection of such pieces yet produced by an American tonemeister.
This pair of CDs contains the complete Books I to IV of those items and over half of Book V, presenting a side of this composer hitherto unencountered. Rakowski’s oeuvre commonly shows predilection for an Atlantic Seaboard ethos, but here we experience him as a scalar if non-triadic stateside eclectic, able to directly quote snippets from Ludwig van Beethoven to Hayes Biggs and filch from popular idioms ranging from boogie to bop, swing to stride. The only bows to a Northeast oriented approach are found in Rakowski’s impeccable craftsmanship and Babbitt-like punning titles (“You Dirty Rag” and “A Gliss is Just a Gliss,” for two).
Most of these miniatures are based on a specific sonority, gestural idea, or piano technique. All are concise, yet brimming with personality. And despite nods to composers as diverse as Debussy, Prokofiev, Berg, Nancarrow, and Messiaen, Rakowski creates a distinctive, highly varied sound world. For example, the ten or so etudes employing a perpetual motion approach carve out their own unique niches – none copy each other in terms of harmony, texture, or
dramatic unfolding. And while some of the larger entries are cast in clear palindromic forms, even those showcasing a more intuitive
formal approach satisfy greatly. These splendid little gems are worthy of any keyboardist’s attention.
Pianist Amy Dissanayake’s performance here is superb. A rich tone quality, impeccable finger work, scintillating voice delineation, and tasteful pedaling contribute to some of the most beautifully musical keyboard playing this critic has heard in some time. Editing and sound quality are wonderfully good. Both releases are a definite must- hear. – David Cleary, Living Music, Fall 2005.
David Rakowski's ''Dances in the Dark," drawn from a ballet for children, is accessible, energetic, and dodgy. -- Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, February 1, 2006.
Clairement, le compositeur américain David Rakowsky connaît aussi bien son Haydn que son Prokofiev que son Ives ou son jazz… Les titres souvent humoristiques de ses études (des jeux de mots parfaitement intraduisibles, pour la plupart) cachent un sérieux de propos musical parfaitement maîtrisé. Et si, par exemple, Touch typing est destiné à n’être joué qu’avec deux doigts, comme le font les dactylographes débutants, le but est réellement didactique !
Rakowsky écrit une musique tout à fait belle, d’un langage nouveau (et destinée aux dix doigts du pianiste, rassurez-vous), attachante, claire et pourtant complexe, faite d’invention propre autant que d’influences parfaitement assumées: aucune avant-garde inflexible donc, mais un langage souple, fluide, mouvant, extraordinairement diversifié et coloré.
À mettre entre les mains de tous les pianistes et entre les oreilles de tous les mélomanes un tant soit peu curieux.
[Clearly the American composer David Rakowsky (sic) knows well his Haydn as well as his Prokofiev and his Ives and his jazz ... The often humorous titles of these etudes (most of them perfectly untranslatable puns) belie perfectly serious and controlled musical substance. And if, for example, "Touch Typing" is intended to be played with only two fingers, like beginning typists, the goal is really didactic.
Rakowsky (sic) writes a complexly beautiful music, in a new language (and, be assured, for the ten fingers of the pianist), attractive, clear and yet complex, made of clean invention with perfectly absorbed influences -- thus no inflexible avant-garde, rather a language which is supple, fluid, moving, extraordinarily diverse, and colorful.
So put these [etudes] between the hands of all pianists and between the ears of all music lovers who are interested in something new.] -- Abeillemusique.com, March 6, 2006.
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