Player Piano 1 - Nancarrow: Studies Vol 1

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In 2000, I reviewed Wergo's mid-price edition of Conlon Nancarrow's complete studies for player piano, where you can access my comments about this unique and...

In 2000, I reviewed Wergo's mid-price edition of Conlon Nancarrow's complete studies for player piano, where you can access my comments about this unique and extraordinary body of music. While the late composer programmed each of the five Wergo discs by mixing earlier and later studies, MDG's new Nancarrow edition will present the pieces in numerical order that by and large corresponds to their chronology. In essence, jazz and blues inform Studies 1 through 10, yet roots of the multi-ratio canonic writing and sudden velocity shifts that characterize Nancarrow's later studies already are present, especially in the lively, complex counterpoint of Nos. 7 and 8. Newcomers to Nancarrow's music probably should start with the remarkable five-movement Study No. 3a-5, the Boogie-Woogie Suite. Its outer movements sound like Albert Ammons, Professor Longhair, and Jimmy Yancey trapped in Cecil Taylor's body, with the rhythmic layers sounding as if organized by Milton Babbitt on LSD.

The Wergo box stems from 1988 digital recordings made in the composer's Mexico City studio on his own custom-modified Ampico instruments. By contrast, the first volume of MDG's Nancarrow edition utilizes a Bösendorfer grand piano with an Ampico player-piano mechanism owned by Jürgen Hocker, whose hammers were modified with leather strips and metal parts according to Nancarrow's direct specifications. This way you get the percussive clarity Nancarrow favored together with the sonorous and resonant advantages of a first-rate concert grand. Furthermore, the vibrant church acoustic of MDG's recording offers a listening experience altogether different from the close microphone placement and dry acoustic of Nancarrow's studio.

For this reason, I hesitate to claim that MDG is better than Wergo, or vice versa. However, I find that the wiry, harpsichord-like sound that emits from certain registers on Nancarrow's instruments adds a degree of timbral diversity missing from the more evenly regulated Bösendorfer, while Wergo's close-up engineering gives additional clarity to the composer's terraced dynamics and frequent aggregates of rapid notes. Then again, the Bösendorfer's tuning holds up much better under Nancarrow's hypervirtuosic demands. The bottom line is that no new music fan should go through life without at least hearing Nancarrow's amazing studies, while Nancarrow devotees should know that MDG's series eventually will include previously unavailable works.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com


Product Description:


  • Release Date: April 01, 2006


  • UPC: 760623140124


  • Catalog Number: 6451401-2


  • Label: MDG


  • Number of Discs: 1


  • Composer: Conlon Nancarrow


  • Performer: Conlon Nancarrow