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Contemporary Music, Recital Media Review Print

An Interesting and Pleasant Blend of Traditions and of Scoring and Improvisation – in Music and in Art

April 27, 2021 - Easthampton, MA:

Coping with crisisAmin Sharifi: Shifting Colors on the Slant. Futaba Niekawa, piano; Arqanoon Records (Iran)/Petrichor Records (USA), © 2018, TT: 43:04; Available from Amazon, $10.51.

There are often disagreements and discussions about the connections between art and music, particularly in the case of Impressionism. Both Debussy and Ravel disputed/protested the use of the term for their music, but it has, alas for them, stuck. Here is a composer who held a Ph.D. Fellowship in Composition at Duke University in Durham, NC, for the current academic year, taught various courses including Introduction to Music and Electronic Music, and assisted the leader of the New Music Ensemble. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in Composition at the University of Utah. He openly attempts to make it/them work and be accurate.

Sharifi, a native of Teheran, Iran, writes (booklet, p. 4): "I have always been searching for free improvisatory forms in composing these piano works (2013-17). Sometimes they are indicated and scripted meticulously, like Seven Color Tile I, II, and III, and Shifting Colors on the Slant; and sometimes, with regards to aleatoric music, some elements are left to the performer, such as Seven Color Tile IV, and Today is the Frist Day of Your Future. Therefore, the personal interpretation of Fatuba Niekawa, the Japanese performer, is of great importance to consider.

"Rhythmic and melodic elements of Persian traditional music, as well as the idea of coloring in impressionistic music/painting, are other sources of inspiration I drew upon in composing the pieces of this collection, which are recognizable to different extents in each piece/tableau. The crossing point of these two concepts – in Seven Color Tile I-IV and Persian Tendency – results in a painted canvas of Persian music."


I would have placed those paragraphs in the inverse order for two reasons: logic, and to end with the appreciation of the performer, without whom the CD could/would not exist. She certainly seems to relate to and bring the music to life as if it were her own. I would also have inverted the words "music" and "art" because that was the chronological order of the use of that term and its association with those worlds.

'Impressionism' is the antithesis of 'accurate depiction,' the equivalent of 'evocation' or 'suggestion,' and, in fact, music, being completely sound, cannot do more than the latter. There are sounds that evoke/suggest bells, ringing or tinkling, or gongs, as in Persian Tendency; others, like those in the title work and in Persian Tendency, call to mind birdcalls, as Messiaen liked to imitate or evoke. Arpeggiation, like in Today is the First Day of Your Future, suggests movement, repetition suggests images repeated, as in ceramic tiles (those four pieces are a bit like minimalism, rather than impressionism…), or evokes natural events, like raindrops, while other patterns that are similar but slightly varied, such as in Time Quake, which evokes trembling, suggest change or progression. None of those things can be accurately depicted by sounds, and the title of the work creates the link to the image. Two of the pieces have an inspiration from a work of literature, as well, one of them involving a painter.

Various pieces bring to my mind various works of both those composers: Debussy's Estampes, Images, and Préludes (one piece is entitled Prelude), and Ravel's Jeux d'eau and Miroirs. It's not that there's any plagiarism, but rather that there is a communion/-ity of mentalities and atmospheres and how to produce those. I am not in a position to identify the traditional Persian melodies, their patterns, and the rhythms, but all those are very pleasant and enjoyable. That they also seem like many of those of the two composers is not surprising because both, especially Debussy, often sought the exotic, although the location of that for them was primarily Spain, not Persia.

The album is dedicated to the artist who created the painting (part of a series) that is on its cover. The booklet's texts are bi-lingual, in Arabic and English, but the order is inverted for the footnotes of the track list on p. 5 and, therefore, are not below the correct languages. Bios of the composer and the pianist are found on pp. 6 and 7 respectively. Missing are the make, model, and serial number of the piano – none of those are identical to all others. The CD was recorded at the Georgina Joshi Recording Arts Studio in Bloomington, IN, when the composer was at the time studying at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music.

The list on p. 5 and the back cover of the album's sleeve (a glossy folded cardboard one, with an inside pocket for the booklet on the left side, and a transparent plastic disk holder glued to an inverted hazy reproduction of the same work of art on the right side, produced by CD Baby, and far superior to the standard horrid jewel case!) is not really a 'track list,' but rather a works list; it does not correspond to what shows on the tracking screen of my player, because the 4 works named Seven Color Tile I, II, III, [and] IV are listed as # 2, but are really tracks 2, 3, 4, and 5, making a total of 13 rather than the listed 10.

I can easily relate to this music and find it most attractive and enjoyable – I have listened to the CD at least a dozen times, each listening revealing other subtleties, much as each examination of a painting opens your eyes wider to its contents and details – and, as you can see by my comments, successful in attaining its goal. My main complaint, besides the (con)structural imperfections in the product that I have mentioned, is that the quantity is way too skimpy! I craved at least an hour's worth: today's CDs can hold over 80 minutes of music.