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Disc review: Jenny Q. Chai, Life Sketches: ‘Piano Music of Nils Vigeland’

Classical

Jenny Q. Chai

Life Sketches: Piano Music of Nils Vigeland

[Naxos]

2.5 stars

Nils Vigeland’s is a Buffalo-born and Buffalo-formed career. His father, Hans, was one of Buffalo’s best-known and most pivotal musicians for decades – organist and music director of Westminster Church, teacher and chorus director at the Buffalo Seminary.

The notes on this somewhat forbidding disc of his piano music are happy to tell us Vigeland’s professional debut as a pianist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Lukas Foss and that he later studied with Foss at Harvard and Morton Feldman at the State University at Buffalo. He often conducted Feldman and Cage in New York City.

One of the longer and more inviting pieces on this uncompromising disc is Vigeland’s “Life Sketches” which was composed in memory of Yvar Mikhashoff, longtime pianist and piano professor at UB and one of the great resident figures in Buffalo music.

Writes Vigeland, “Yvar was a person of opposites: publicly gregarious, privately lonely. He loved all things theatrical as well as arcane. A large man, somewhat ungainly, he was an exquisite ballroom dancer.”

Another piece on the disc was inspired by the paintings of Rene Magritte.

Despite such admirable sources, the music on the disc seems rather redolent of opposites too – warm and affectionate sometimes and thorny, distant and rhetorical sometimes.

All the individual pieces are terse. Their totality, said Vigeland, comprises half of his composed music for the piano. Presented in reverse order of composition here, most of the pieces are interesting but as superbly played as it all is by Shanghai pianist Jenny O. Chai, the disc provides almost no coherent portrait of the composer.

– Jeff Simon

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