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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

From Mozart to Minimalism

Classical Review

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Terry Riley were composers who expanded the range of music. What else do they share? Both are filed together under the heading of classical music, even though their music is separated by two centuries and sounds as unalike as imaginable.

Sony Classical has just issued CDs of music by Mozart and Riley. The former is a new recording by a veteran virtuoso, pianist Leon Fleisher's Mozart Piano Concertos. The latter, In C, is a CD reissue of Riley's seminal 1968 LP.

Nowadays many casual listeners associate Mozart with opera as much as anything. But while the great composer wrote in almost every genre available to him, many aficionados find the cream of his writing in the piano concertos. After all, he was a virtuoso pianist and writing for the instrument was his first love. Accompanied by the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, Fleisher performs a trio of concerts with the graceful lilt and sense of proportion one associates with Mozart.

In C was profoundly inspired by non-Western ways of music making. Performed on this recording by a small orchestra of vibraphones and marimbas along with brass, woodwinds and a piano, the hypnotic tinkling rhythm with its gradually unfolding variations marked it as one of the birth points of minimalism, the flag under which Philip Glass, John Adams and Steve Reich would march forward to find new audiences for the new music of the late 20th century. Riley's influence would spill over into the more venturesome wings of rock. The notes to In C's reissue claim that the signature synthesizer riff from the Who's "Baba O'Riley" was a tip of the hat to Terry Riley.