This month the 75th birthday of composer and pianist David Del Tredici (born on March 16, 1937), was celebrated with a weekend of concerts. It began with him and pianist Marc Peloquin giving a recital in the Old First Concerts series performing both solo compositions and the four-hand tango “Carioca Boy.” The following night, in a chamber music pre-concert recital prior to the opening of the 2012–2013 season of the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, they reprised “Carioca Boy;” and Peloquin revisited “Same-Sex Marriage,” the first movement of Mandango, which he had performed in its entirety at Old First. In addition, Del Tredici accompanied flutist David Latulippe in “Acrostic Song,” a flute-piano transcription he made for the concluding section of “Final Alice.”
All this provides context for the latest project launched by Naxos in their American Classics series. This will be a series of three CDs recording Del Tredici’s complete piano works. The first volume was released in July with Peloquin performing four ballads composed between 1997 and 2008 and the 2004 suite Gotham Glory (Four Scenes of New York).
The Naxos notes attach the label “Neo-Romantic” to Del Tredici; but I have to confess a personal opinion that, to the extent that we associate romanticism with the nineteenth century, that “neo” is too vague to be particularly meaningful. It would be more specific to say that, as a composer, Del Tredici has cultivated a highly refined sense of embellishment, whose ornate sophistication may recall the nineteenth century but whose rhetoric is decidedly contemporary. Furthermore, he shows a great interest it couching that rhetoric in a structural logic based on highly traditional forms.
Thus, Del Tredici shows a great interest in imitative counterpoint, a structure that arises through either fugue or canon on several of the tracks on this recent CD. His respect for counterpoint goes far beyond how it was practiced in the nineteenth century, showing far more respect for Johann Sebastian Bach and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. (“Same-Sex Marriage” is a thoroughly impressive latter-day chorale prelude that manages to squeeze in the “wedding-appropriate” themes of both Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner.) On the other hand one also detects the influence of Robert Schumann, who definitely respected counterpoint but was never quite as accomplished as his predecessors from earlier centuries; and, on the rhetorical level, Del Tredici’s use of the label “ballad” is more likely to recall Gabriel Fauré than Frédéric Chopin.
One thing is certain: Pick up a page of Del Tredici’s piano music, and your first visual impression is likely to be the sheer density of notes on the page. You may well find yourself thinking of Ferruccio Busoni or the even more daunting complexities of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji’s “Opus Clavicembalisticum.” This demands more than a pianist who can fit all of those notes under his/her fingers. As is the case with any ambitious piece of counterpoint, the composer must find an underlying logic that sorts all of those notes out into foreground and background. Peloquin proved himself to be such a pianist when I heard him perform earlier this month, and he proves himself just as convincingly and elegantly on this recent recording.
Once foreground and background have been established, the listener can dispense with any cerebral obligation to dwell on every last detail. Indeed, realistic listening demands this, just because there are too many of those details. When one acknowledges this limitation and is willing to listen “from a distance,” so to speak, one discovers that this literal gushing of embellishment that makes up Del Tredici’s score pages serves to signify a figurative joyousness. In other words Peloquin negotiates all of the complexity with a facility through which the rest of us can then revel in all the joy, and it is that sense of joy that makes this such a satisfying recording.