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Fanfare Review

 


This is a strange disc in more ways than one. First of all, it’s not a conventional CD with .wav files on it, but actually an mp3 disc. Secondly, the only liner notes are one short blurb from Alan Hovhaness praising the abilities of the pianist, Zielinski, a one-paragraph bio of the composer, and another paragraph written by one Sue E. Doherty praising Burton’s music. Investigating Burton online, I discovered her website, which includes a photo of her mixing her music (what’s to mix? a solo piano?) in her home studio.

Once you get past these anomalies, however, you’ll discover an album of remarkable tonal vignettes, each one a little gem, most of them perfect to provide pianists with something unusual to play for an encore. (I also found the titles to be loosely related to the music, almost generic.) Despite what the bio says, that Burton was influenced by jazz bands that she heard in Washington, D.C., her music actually seems to dovetail classical techniques (largely derived, I’d say, from Debussy and Satie) into music that sounds influenced by pop tunes and modern-day Broadway.

I should point out, however, that Burton’s music is on a much higher plane than most current pop or Broadway music. Burton writes likeable melodies, then embellishes them with just the right seasoning, never too much or too little, to make her musical soufflé rise just right. As one who has just spent the better part of six months writing a survey of the interaction between jazz and classical music, however, I must hesitate to relate her music to jazz. Not only is there no improvisation, but the music doesn’t swing and has little indication that a jazz base was ever present, with one exception, the opening and closing sections of “Sometime after 1 a.m.” This is not an indictment against Burton, merely a technical description. I should also add that, judging by the music and its performance on this disc, I’m not really certain that a virtuoso player of Zielinski’s ability was needed. Even though this music is attractive and interesting, it doesn’t sound the least bit virtuosic. If you’ve ever passed through a Student Union or the music department’s hallway where rehearsal pianos are present, and heard a composition student working something out and said to yourself, “That’s really interesting,” you’ll have a good idea of what Canary Burton’s music sounds like.

Her Atlantic Sonata, the longest and most developed piece on the disc, is remarkable for its complete lack of sonata form in either the theme or its development. In fact, here one hears the kind of moment-to-moment progression that exists in pianist Jack Reilly’s “Meditations on the Tarot,” a series the second movement (at least, the second section), the piano coruscates through light yet rapid 16th-note passages that created a sort of swirling effect. This is followed by bass notes upon which the left hand builds one of the few virtuosic-sounding passages in any of her music, eventually becoming bitonal and, in one four-bar passage, almost atonal in feeling before returning to a harmonic base. 

In closing, I should add that the sound quality is also very unusual in that it really does sound like it was taped in a piano rehearsal room. The piano tone is very claustrophobic, almost dry and a little brittle. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, but it does rather obscure any nuance that Zielinski may have tried to put into his performances. The worst sound, alas, was in the Atlantic Sonata, where a persistent fuzzy feedback seemed to be present. Being closely recorded, the sound is also rather loud. I suggest testing the volume before you play the entire disc.

Lynn René Bayley




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