Tall Poppies


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Carl Vine: The Piano Music (1990 - 2006)

Michael Kieran Harvey (piano)

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

This is the first complete recorded collection of Carl Vine's piano music, and includes the world premiere recording of his latest work for piano, The Anne Landa Preludes (2006). Prodigiously gifted Australian pianist, Michael Kieran Harvey, has a long association with Vine, having premiered both of his sonatas as well as the Piano Concerto (1997).

As well as featuring the premiere recording of the Preludes, this disc includes brand new recordings of Vine's Five Bagatelles, Red Blues and his signature keyboard work, the First Piano Sonata. The recording of the Second Piano Sonata is reproduced here from Harvey's earlier recording previously released on Chamber Music Volume 2 (catalog number TP120).


This recorded collection of Carl Vine 's piano music since 1990 includes the world premiere recording of the twelve short Anne Landa Preludes (2006), attractive pieces which can be selected freely for performance; as published and recorded here "each is as highly differentiated from its neighbours as I could make it".

The Australian pianist, Michael Kieran Harvey (pictured with the composer) premiered both of Carl Vine's sonatas. He despatches them with stunning virtuosity. I preferred the first, whichdraws upon aspects of Carter's sonata. It evolves organically to builds layers of resonance with intense rhythmic drive. The second was given 'a far more solid structure' - to its disadvantage, by my ears.

Vine is a major composer in Australia. His music is rarely heard in our parochial country, and if this is a fair sample, we are losing out by not knowing it. Vivid recording and nice illustrations.
See http://carlvine.com/

© Peter Grahame Woolf
Musical Pointers

To have access to so many of Carl Vine's piano works on the one CD, all performed lithely and with extraordinary musical insight and, frankly, sheer bliss by the renowned Australian pianist Michael Kieran Harvey is, indeed, a treat. The trust in the relationship between composer and performer is obvious here. The complexity and depth of feeling conveyed in Vine's works relies on the integrity of such a relationship.

Recurring threads run through the two sonatas and the first is, in some regards, reminiscent of aspects of his piano concerto, lyrical, fast paced scale passages against an under , or over current of rich chords or slower paced supporting melodies. Where many Australian contemporary composers limit the range of pitch in their works, with a more minimalist palette, Vine's melodies cover the entire keyboard and are unashamedly romantic in their musical explorations. Melody is of the utmost importance in Vine's work. But as is the case with many Australian composers, his rhythms are beautifully sculpted rambling affairs. Vine's music has incredible momentum, we are always being led somewhere and it is Michael Kieran Harvey's audacious handling of both the technical challenges and, just as importantly, sensitive timing and touch that make both the ride and the points of rest, lovely places to inhabit.

The Five Bagatelles are contrasting works, the second an exciting rhythmic adventure, the third reflective chords supporting a simple recurring melody. The fourth is a blues piece with a twenty first century makeover. The fifth Bagatelle is the original work around which the others evolved. It is a threnody for those who have died from AIDS. It has two parallel melodies with a chasm of two octaves and a fifth between them (like the harmonics of a tolling bell) and the fundamental melody, centrally placed, slow and measured, is supported by a consonant harmony. The effect is one of loneliness and poignancy, but like all of Vine's work there is a radiant beauty and warmth to it.

Vine's Red Blues were written as pedagogical studies, but with Vine's wit, take us from a quite traditional blues base in the first piece to a vastly different blues landscape by the fourth. This point of inspiration is also explored in many of the pieces making up The Anna Landa Preludes.
These preludes, a dedication to the music patron, Anna Landa, who died prematurely, offer a cornucopia of musical styles as with Five Bagatelles. There are Debussy moments, such as the bell like Sweetsour, which doffs its cap to La Cathédrale Engloutie, and Two Fifths, originally, Vine says, known as The Goblin's Cakewalk. Then there is the gorgeous, pure Vine Romance and the audacious and witty Thumper, a masterly, sexy, rhythmically charged retort to a teacher who warned against piano thumping. Vine's Tarantella is much more evocative of the spiders after whom the solo dance is named than most, whilst retaining the urgency and vitality one expects from such a dance. The Fughetta takes Bach on a roller coaster ride he could never have imagined whilst The Chorale, more evocative of Vine's work for The Battlers, offers a final simple soliloquy of calm and humility. The CD is a wonderful marriage between a great composer and an outstanding interpreter of his works.
Mandy Stefanakis
Music Forum Nov 2008 - Jan 2009

A pianist himself, Australian Carl Vine (b. 1954) writes distinctive and attractive music for solo piano. His approach is post-Romantic, but it is a large-gesture Lisztian Romanticism, tempered by the influence of Messiaen, Carter, and other modernists. This music can be both vigorously propulsive and, at times, "dreamy" (the apt description coined by the pianist in his CD notes). Most noticeable is its degree of difficulty, demanding a pianist of great technical fluency and wide dynamic range.

Vine has these requirements in spades with Michael Kieran Harvey, the brilliant exponent for whom most of these works were composed. Harvey should be a household name, considering his remarkable facility at the keyboard. Perhaps because he went his own way repertoire-wise, delving into obscure corners and, horror of horrors, concentrating much of his time on new music, he is less appreciated than he might be -not unlike an Australian pianist of an earlier generation, Roger Woodward.

The most substantial items on this CD are, predictably enough, the two sonatas. The First, in two movements, follows the same structural pattern as Carter's Piano Sonata: a quiet opening movement (generally speaking) followed by an athletic second movement commencing (in Vine's case) with a dazzling moto perpetuo. The Second Sonata is more rigidly structured, but the basic effect remains the same; a juxtaposition of contrasting materials provides dramatic thrust. In this way, the sonatas call to mind those of Tippett, particularly his Second - with the proviso that Tippett's piano music, unlike Vine's, is not so pianistically idiomatic.

The other works are made up of smaller pieces, which nevertheless speak the same language. Vine's sudden explosions of energy and/or momentum are possibly best contained in the aphoristic Anne Landa Preludes, the most recent composition here. In No. 10, "Romance," and also in the fifth of the Five Bagatelles, "Threnody," Vine tames his natural exuberance to produce music of deceptively simple depth and beauty.

If you go to buywell.com.au, the company that exports Australian labels, you will find various issues of Vine's music and of Harvey's work: the overlapping of some of these may cause confusion. The sonatas are included on two earlier Tall Poppies CDs, Vine's chamber music, volumes 1 and 2. The above recording of the First Sonata is, however, brand new and "even faster" than the older one, according to TP's press release. The Bagatelles, Blues, and Preludes are also newly recorded. The Second Sonata is the same performance as on the previous issue.

There is also available a recital on ABC Classics, Storm Sight, in which Harvey plays the two sonatas (plus music by Frank Zappa and others). Although recorded around the same time and in the same venue as the earlier TP releases, timings suggest these are different performances again. Certainly, the ABC Second Sonata is "even faster" than the new/old performance above.

The issue is further complicated by the type of piano used. At the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music (out of Sydney), the Stuart & Sons piano has been developed and enthusiastically adopted. Its mechanism and therefore its sound is radically different from that of a Steinway grand. The Stuart's timbre is thinner, although still warm, much less muddy, and noticeably bell-like in the highest register. On the ABC disc, both sonatas were recorded in Newcastle using the Stuart piano. On the new TP release, only the older recording of the Second Sonata is played on the Stuart; the rest of the program is played on a regular Steinway (which makes for a fascinating comparison).

Vine's piano music is well worth any pianophile's time and money, in whichever incarnation it appears. As for this release, in every way it is something out of the ordinary. Highly recommended.
Philip Scott
Fanfare 2007

Authoritative Performances from a Vine champion

Among the piano music of the past quarter-century, Carl Vine's holds a considerable place through its scintillating technique and far from facile immediacy. Both of his sonatas adopt the two-movement format favoured in the Baroque and early Classical eras, but their expressive ambit is distinctly that of the late 20th century. The First (1990) draws on Carter's imposing model in its emphasis on contrasts of motion and texture to create a powerfully cumulative whole, with the Second (1998) focusing instead on more fully defined themes whose eventful transformation brings about the overall form.

Both of these works are superbly realised by Michael Kieran Harvey, who championed the First and commissioned the Second, and who is equally authoritative in the smaller pieces. Five Bagatelles (1995) explore modest but characterful qualities - culminating in a finely sustained "Threnody" - as does the even briefer Red Blues (1999), albeit from the perspective of young students (which does not make them easy). Expressively more diverse, The Anne Landa Preludes (2006) are deftly achieved evocations whose individual titles offer possible points of reference, moving intently towards a "Chorale" whose profundity is achieved without overt religious connotations. Clearly Vine is as able looking inwardly as he is projecting dynamic exuberance.

A pity that the excellence of the recorded sound in these works is not shared by the sonatas, with their tendency to coarsen at climaxes, but this is a small blemish on an otherwise excellent release - which, with informative notes by composer and pianist, is strongly recommended.

Richard Whitehouse
Gramophone Magazine, March 2007

Australian virtuoso pianist Michael Kiernan Harvey has long been a champion of Carl Vine's music, and here gives vital performances of all the composer's works for solo piano, including the two notable piano sonatas, both written specially for Harvey. The Piano Sonata No 1 of 1990 is a rhythmically impelled and highly demanding two-movement composition that in a committed performance sweeps the listener along throught its 15-minute time span. The longer 1998 Piano Sonata No 2 is also in two movements and also driven by motoric rhythms. But it is different from the first sonata in its distinctive expressive shaping of the middle sections of each movement. Both works make stimulating listening. Also on the disc are the Five Bagatelles (1995) and Vine's most recent piano work, the diverse and attractive Twelve Anne Landa Preludes completed last year.
Canberra Times March 2007

The works on this CD present all the piano music written by the Australian composer Carl Vine (b. 1954) from 1990 (the First Piano Sonata) until some point last year (the recordings date from three occasions between February 1999 and May 2006). If you're familiar with Vine's orchestral music you won't be surprised to find that his piano music comes with a similar charge of high-voltage rhythmic energy. The two-movement Piano Sonata No 1, explicitly modelled on Elliott Carter's Piano Sonata of 1946, starts deceptively, though: sleepy, bluesy chords suggest langorous summer heat, but the piece soon erupts into a headlong toccata, sounding something like Minimalist Prokofiev before it subsides back into its uneasy calm. The second movement is a breathless moto perpetuo built on motorically repeated phrases, dying into a chorale section that seems to hint at sunken cathedrals under a rather Celtic decorated melody in the treble; the mad race then resumes. The First Sonata (recorded on a Steinway D in 2004) acts as exemplar for much else that's on the disc. The 1998 Second Sonata (captured on a Stuart & Sons instrument in 1999), again in two movements, offers the same mix of wildly exciting motoric rhythm offset by passages of angular melody and chordal calm.

The other three works here are built from series of miniatures: the Five Bagatelles date from 1994, Red Blues (four pieces for young performers) from 1999 and The Anne Landa Preludes - 12 of them, exactly 24 minutes in length - from 2006. They show in microcosm the same kinds of contrasts as you find in the sonatas: toccatas, blues, laments, manic boogie-woogies. The whimsy in Vine's programme note on The Anne Landa Preludes - commissioned in memory of a Sydney supporter of the arts - is reflected in the grim humour that pervades much of the music.

Michael Kieran Harvey plays like a man possessed: he flies at Vine's breakneck explosions of energy like a pitbull at a postman, maintaining absolute textural clarity whatever the tempo. The recordings are commendably clear but have minor shortcomings: the First Sonata and miniatures have too much halo, and the Second is too distant.
Martin Anderson
International Piano Magazine, Jan-Feb 2007

I’ve had as many ‘wow!’ moments with the Australian Tall Poppies label as any other in recent times, and this new collection of piano works by Carl Vine goes right to the top of the heap – I’m only sorry that the Musicweb-International ‘Discs of the Year 2006’ listings have already been completed: this would be a very strong contender for inclusion.

Carl Vine is one of Australia’s leading composers, having established himself with music for dance, a great deal of chamber music, and currently with seven symphonies to his name. If being asked to write music for the closing ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (the ‘Sydney 2000’ presentation) isn’t some kind of recognition as a composer, then I don’t know what is.

There is an impressive, irreversible strength to the work on this disc. Piano Sonata No.1 begins quietly, with block chords which have a hint of Messiaen in them, soon broadening out with thematic developments and layers of texture which crystallize into music of driving rhythm and virtuosity, played with unparalleled magnificence by Michael Kieran-Harvey. The first time I played this recording I had to stop listening for a while just to spend some time assimilating what I had heard, so overwhelming was the experience. Wow!

Just as Vine is reluctant to offer detailed explanations of the compositional processes involved, I find it hard to put the dead hand of analytical comment on this recording. I think it is however safe to say that this music is more than accessible – being the modern equivalent of (for instance) some of the sonatas of Prokofiev, but without the gruff Russianness. Piano Sonata No.2 comes hard on the heals of No.1, which was written for Michael Kieran-Harvey and helped win him the Ivo Pogorelich International Piano Competition. While the first sonata has appeared on Tall Poppies before this a new recording: the present recording of the second sonata has already appeared on TP120, Carl Vine’s Chamber Music Vol. 2 (see review).

Like the first sonata, the second is divided into two sections, but has a more ordered structure. The first movement has a rhapsodic, pianistic restlessness, the left hand constantly providing a harmonic landscape over which melodic flights are allowed to develop. The second half of the movement evolves into a slow ground bass over which the melodic right hand is given bell-like sonorities. The second movement immediately introduces a jazzier character, the bass almost breaking into a fast boogie-woogie at some stages. The logic of this material dictates a slower central section in which the ‘dreamier’ side of the material can be explored, the closing passages recapitulating the character of the opening, to a spectacular climax.

Five Bagatelles is a diverse collection of small piano pieces which grew around the fifth ‘Threnody’ movement, a quiet, meditative memorial for innocent victims, written as a solution for the composer’s dilemma at what to play at the Australian AIDS Trust. The pieces are generally lighter in ‘heft’ than with the sonata content, but have moments of great beauty, and grand jazzy fun. Red Blues is a set of four short pieces written as instructional music for students. The jazz-fun element is prominent as you might expect, and I can imagine many students finding their technical demands quite a high hurdle to leap – they’re certainly beyond my feeble abilities.

The most recent works on this CD, The Anne Landa Preludes, were commissioned by John Sharpe as a memorial to Anne Landa, whose contribution as a patron of the arts and positive force behind young pianists in Australia is sorely missed since her untimely death in 2002. Knowing this context, the final Chorale of this set of pieces is quite moving. This is their world premiere recording. These pieces are intended as a successor to the Five Bagatelles, but whereas the earlier set was the result of a burst of energy, the Preludes emerged slowly, creating their own problems and questions for the composer. Each piece is given a short description, sometimes indicating some inner meaning to the music, or referring to the technical/pianistic aspects of playing which the composer is addressing. The result is a collection of contrasting works with a high level of refined compositional craft, and with the nice addition of plenty of wit and humour.

The recordings on this CD are excellent, and despite coming from a variety of session are reasonably consistent, at best being of demonstration quality – whatever that means: if I’m keen to ‘demonstrate’ new pieces to musical colleagues it is almost invariably for the musical content rather than the tonsil-rattling qualities in the sound. For its incredible music and musicianship, this is most certainly a CD which I shall be ‘demonstrating’ to the piano fraternity in The Hague and beyond.
Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, January 2007

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 TP (1-901)



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