August 16, 2013
ZOFO: Four Dancing Glories
ZOFO’s delightful second album has nothing to do with moshing, but a more accurate title like “Four-Hand Piano Music Inspired by 19th and Early 20th-Century Dances” would probably cut sales by 50%. Foremost among the strengths of this release is its repertoire, six high-quality and listener-friendly works by famous composers, and those who deserve to be so. The recording quality is superb — there is even a second copy of the disc included for those who have Blue-ray audio capabilities. The performances are for the most part excellent, though not flawless.
The release opens with George Gershwin’s arrangement of his Cuban Overture, and Yvar Mikhashoff’s arrangement of Conlon Nancarrrow’s 1941 Sonatina for piano. In the first, I missed the orchestration, in the second, the rhythmic accuracy and clarity of the piano rolls Nancarrow cut for his piece, and almost everything else he composed.
Samuel Barber’s Souvenirs is a set of six delightful dances. Here the duo’s tendency to hesitate slightly before the downbeat on slower numbers becomes annoying, especially in the Chopinesque Pas De Deux.
Unlilke the Cuban Overture, John Corigliano’s defiantly tonal (for 1972) Gazebo Dances, though later beautifully orchestrated, sounds just as attractive on piano. Like most of his early works, its replete with the sounds of other composers: Bernstein, Stravinsky, Lee Hoiby, Barber, R. Strauss, even F. Ricketts’ “Colonel Bogey” march.
The glories of ZOFO’s new album, and the most strikingly performed, are the concluding two suites on the program. Paul Schoenfield, best known as the composer of “Café Music” for piano trio, is represented by Five Days from the Life of a Manic Depressive, a dramatic and affecting set of 5 narrative numbers that outline a manic/breakdown/depressive/blues-rag/ultra-manic-boogie trajectory. A composer unknown to me, Allen Shawn (brother of the actor Wallace Shawn), contributes Three Dance Portraits: a jazzy quasi-boogie-woogie, a quirky Habanera, and a rock-infused “Peter Gunn”-like pile-driver.
For more about ZOFO (20FO, an acronym for 20-Fingered-Orchestra), check out the recent interview of Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann conducted by SFCV’s Jeff Kaliss.
All in all, this is a toe-tapping, “What’s-not-to-like?” item for anyone who enjoys four-hand piano music.
Jeff Dunn is a freelance critic with a B.A. in music and a Ph.D. in geologic education. A composer of piano and vocal music, he is a member of the National Association of Composers, USA, a former president of Composers, Inc., and has served on the Board of New Music Bay Area. A photomontage enthusiast, he illustrates his own reviews.