The Irritable Hedgehog label is one you can't ignore, not if you've got brains in your head, an itch in your spirit, and the constant thirst that so marks a nomadic soul and its curiously morphing aesthetics. Having issued William Duckworth's The Time Curve Preludes (here) and Tom Johnson's An Hour for Piano (here), they've now captured Kari Johnson in a reading of Scott Blasco's Queen of Heaven for piano and subtle electronics, and it's a masterpice of classical, neoclassical, and refined noiseur modes. The other two discs were performed by R. Andrew Lee, a young player of no small talents, and this one by Johnson is equally adept, just as daunting, her sensitivities rather extraordinary, baroque while futuristic.
The work is claimed to be in spirit with Taverner and Messien, and I certainly have no quibble with that but would also include Ligeti, Takemitsu, and perhaps a bit of Nyman as well…with shades of Klaus Schulze hovering at the periphery. Blasco was commissioned by Johnson to write the piece, and it's a long EP, 26 minutes, thoroughly engrossing and architected like a cathedral—a moody Piranesian borderlands church of dark recesses, unfathomable antiquity, and labyrinthine vaults, granted, but beautiful nonetheless for all its grey mysteries. Austere and timeworn, it nonetheless refuses to rest in its grave, achieving modernity through contrast, ambiance, and awareness.
Part of this derives from the sentiment Blasco holds that the splinter Catholic churches will one day unite and transcend their internal Balkanizations. Ignatius Loyola—for whom I, even in my position as atheist meta-anarchist ex-Catholic, harbor affection due to his unorthodox and even radical Socratic educational views—would undoubtedly applaud, as will I, as it's a very Humanist intent, the same sort of thing that caused Erasmus to oppose Luther when he went off the rails. The Queen of Heaven, then, you see, is Mary, and Blasco appears to embody an ethically pronouncedly Marian partiality, which is all the more interesting, as that sort of near-blasphemy, at least insofar as the insularly conservative element of the Church is concerned, is still, as far as I know, leerily viewed in the Vatican and the rest of the heirarchy. The last of the cycle of movements here clearly demonstrates that refusal of the convicted and intelligent composer to adhere to orthodoxy when so much more is evident as the higher truth.
Thus, as you may see, many things inform truly authentic work, and Queen is not a light adventure, though it isn't as challenging as, say, Penderecki or Schoenberg. For those of a progressive wont, it will prove to be a sterling exercise in three-dimensional sonics as well as a doorway to other more conservative masterpieces (Rachmaninof's Isle of the Dead for instance, or Shostakovitch's mordant side, the 14th and kindred opuses), but it's undeniably modern while observant of the very deepest wellsprings of Western modes. This is a recording of a piece from a gentleman early in his career but also a proclamation that an interesting and provocative enfante terrible, if I may be allowed to gild the lily slightly, has arrived and may well become a determinant in where the course of the foundering Western Classical tradition will find itself. That, I must confess, is a consummation devoutly to be desired, as the mode badly needs a voice like Blasco's.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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