Douwe Eisenga: The Piano Files II
Maximal Music

A few months back, textura had the distinct pleasure of reviewing four recent recordings by Dutch classical composer Douwe Eisenga (b. 1961), one of which was the first volume in an ambitious series titled The Piano Files. (As ambitious as it is, however, it's trumped by one of his other projects, Simon Songs, a work-in-progress that, if it ever reaches completion, will total 996 songs.) The follow-up chapter in The Piano Files series is now available and is just as splendid as the first.

The choice of ‘Maximal Music' as a label name might be seen as a bit of playfulness on Eisenga's part, considering that his composing style exemplifies associations with the Dutch version of ‘minimal music,' which differs from its American counterpart whilst still retaining connections to it. His music shares with US minimalism an emphasis on rhythm-heavy pattern repetition, but his pieces are more expressively melodic and thus more broadly accessible. In simplest terms, the typical Eisenga composition achieves a pleasing balance between propulsion and melodicism; further to that, while his recordings would naturally be filed in the classical section, traces of pop, rock, baroque, and jazz also emerge.

On this hour-long collection, pianist Jeroen van Veen performs three Eisenga compositions, “Les Chants d'Automne,” “Kick” (in a version for two pianos), and the three-part Piano Concerto (also in a two-piano arrangement). “Les Chants d'Automne” proves to be as captivating as its predecessor, The Piano Files' “Les Chants Estivaux,” in part because both emphasize interlocking patterns that chime resplendently and flow lullingly. Multi-part in structure, “Les Chants d'Automne” accelerates in tempo halfway through its twelve-minute journey, growing ever more insistent and aggressive as it does so, before reverting for its closing quarter to the controlled presentation and rather autumnal tone with which it began.

“Kick” is an elegant, sixteen-minute exercise in pattern-based classicism van Veen methodically works through with determination and single-minded purpose, though it also, in keeping with its title, swings with relentless drive. The opening movement inaugurates the half-hour concerto on a brooding, ruminative note, though, true to Eisenga form, it doesn't take long for the music to grow in energy and become rhythmically charged. Four minutes into the first part, its patterns can be heard locking into position with the precision of a machine operating in peak form. By comparison, the central movement, not surprisingly, is gentler and its tone softer, whereas the third part is as animated and robust as one would expect a concluding movement to be.

A single-instrument album such as The Piano Files II obviously can't capture the rich orchestral colour of a typical ensemble work by Eisenga except by way of implication, but it certainly does convey much of the defining character of his compositional style. Regardless of whether the piece is arranged for a single instrument, quartet, or large outfit, a distinctive and well-balanced blend of melody and rhythm will always be present.

October 2016