Australian solo piano : ambience with depth

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He is now based in Bordeaux, France, where he writes for the International Herald-Tribune and other publications. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine. In 1990 he was appointed chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique where he worked as Editorial Director for two years. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of four books and recently edited “24/7 Innovation” for an Accenture consultant and “Nokia: The Inside Story”, written by historian Martti Haikio, for the Nokia Corporation. A fluent French speaker, he also speaks Russian

Ukrainian-born Evgeny Ukhanov, based in Australia for the past 20 years, is an established performer of new music originating in his adopted homeland. Now he has teamed up with friend and Melbourne composer Alan Griffiths on a new CD of selections regrouped under the title “Introspection”. 

This isn’t “new music” in the contemporary sense but a coherent assemblage of Griffiths’ favorite solo piano pieces. Griffiths tells me he selected these compositions from 27 years of his archives to create a song cycle. It works marvelously. 

He lists as his influences Krzystov Penderecki, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Prokofiev. In these seven compositions, the echos of great antecedents ring clearly. The over-all impression of this album is of pleasant ambient music but with a special depth of harmony and melody, impressive pianism by Ukhanov, and linkage of selections. 

One personal influence over the album is the premature death of the composer’s autistic brother Michael, to whom the opening piece, Reverie II, is dedicated. Griffiths explains in his program notes that he settled on a theme and developed it through a series of variations. The closing piece, “Till We Meet Again”, is in a reflective mood, but with his brother’s death in mind it carries “a tender poignancy”.

After several hearings, the “Touch of Tango” stands out as the most memorable selection. Griffiths writes in his program notes that he relied on  a four-bar syncopated rhythm that was not intended as a rigorous tango but reminded listeners of the tango bounce. 

Griffiths is an accomplished pianist but decided to work with Ukhanov on this debut album due to his own “deterioration of technique”. “We had a great rapport and we both admire Rachmaninoff,” Griffiths says. “Evgeny was able to draw out more from my repertoire than I thought possible. His interpretive skills are exceptional and added considerable value.” 

Griffiths plans a second album of solo piano and chamber works. His long-range plan is for five albums, including his film scores, an a cappella choral work and a larger orchestral work. 

 


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