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Sharp edges of Amy Williams' new disc strike a chord

Classical New Music

Amy Williams, "Cineshape & Duos" performed by Amy Williams, piano; Lindsey Goodman, flute; Kevin McFarland, cello; Ari Streisfeld, violin; Noah Getz, saxophone; piano/conductor Andrew Jonathan Welch; Scott Christian, timpani; and the Jack Quartet (Albany).

The beginning of the notes by Allen Shawn on this superb disc of New Music is so immodest on Amy Williams' behalf as to almost sound like braggadocio.

"A listener new to Amy Williams' world should not expect to need help entering it." Her work, he writes, "is rigorous, yet playful; abstract yet personal; stylish but as bracingly frank as a cold shower. It is communicative precisely because of its sharp edges, its fierce, almost geometric precision, its dogged pursuit of right timbres, pitches, and rhythms, its lack of false sentiment and its concise, carefully calibrated forms."

And within the circumscribed audiences for new music, what Shawn says is not only phenomenally accurate but revealing about what makes her work appealing – so much more, in fact, than a huge number of composers her age.

As the daughter of Buffalo percussionist/conductor Jan Williams and BPO violist Diane Williams, Amy Williams, as Shawn said, knew that "Cage, Feldman, (Elliott) Carter were family friends, as was her early mentor, extraordinary new music pianist Yvar Mikhashoff."

In her two-piano duo with Helena Bugallo, they are renowned for playing music others consider unplayable.This is often gripping music of broad gestures and arresting presence. The four works in her Cineshape series make references to films – the Korean film "Chunhyang," "The Lives of Others" which won the Oscar for foreign film, "Run Lola Run" (which inspires Williams piano music that ought to be standard in postmodern recitals) and Hitchcock's masterpiece "Rope."

The performance level here is so high that any worries about classical new music having too hopelessly narrow an audience to communicate clearly are more than a little absurd. The best recording of Williams' music yet.

3.5 stars (out of four)


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