Lubomyr Melnyk: Three Solo Pieces
Lubomyr Melnyk: Windmills
It's telling that, to these ears at least, the most powerful piece on Lubomyr Melnyk's 2013 Corollaries is not one of the four pieces that includes contributions from Peter Broderick (also the album's producer) but the one featuring the Ukrainian-Canadian composer alone. Translation: nothing more than the pianist's rapturous “Continuous Piano Music,” a style he began developing in the 1970s, is needed to command one's attention—which bodes well indeed for these new Melnyk releases, both of which present his playing sans accompaniment. His distinctive style is instantly identifiable, even if one can draw connections between his approach to those of Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass; it's worth noting, however, that, much like those composers, Melnyk rejects the Minimalism label as it applies to his music, preferring instead Maximalism on account of its fullness.
On physical grounds, his playing impresses for the extraordinary level of stamina it demands and for the focused concentration required to maintain the music's unbroken flow in pieces that on these two recordings range between eight to forty-three minutes. But, as central as such a component might be to Melnyk's style, it's secondary to the musical qualities of his pieces. Yes, the rolling thunder he generates is a marvel to behold, especially when the music, so thick with sustain, barrels forth as a veritable torrent of sound, but it's as memorable for the melodic themes he threads into those lustrous masses.
Windmills' forty-three-minute title track is, not surprisingly, a tour de force that dazzlingly showcases the melodic and rhythmic dimensions of his music. Begun in 2009 and completed in 2012, the piece is rooted conceptually in an old story from an early Walt Disney animation called The Old Windmill. In Melnyk's version of the story, the windmill, situated alone at the top of a hill, withstands wind, rain, and storms throughout its 300-year existence, until a brutal storm destroys it, after which it rises to heaven singing a plaintive song of farewell, one designed to remind mankind to be grateful for the beauties of life. It's obviously easy to draw parallels between Melnyk and the windmill, in the way an artist might endure years of relative obscurity as an isolated figure but also in in seeing both the windmill and Melnyk as implacable physical forces of nature.
It's easy too to hear parallels between the story and the music in the way the stormy character of the former is embodied by the relentless surge of the thrumming piano patterns in the latter. Both of the recording's pieces carry with them the detail “For 2 Pianos,” though whether that means they were played simultaneously during the recording or layered through multi-tracking isn't clarified. Regardless, the material achieves such a level of density within the title track that it becomes an endlessly sprawling ocean of seemingly unlimited depth. At about thirty-seven minutes into the title track, a dramatic change in tone occurs, as the music slows and grows less dense so as to allow a sequence filled with yearning and supplication to bring the piece to a peaceful resolution. That gesture sets the stage for “The Song of Windmill's Ghost,” whose twenty minutes splits its emphasis equally between the twinkling arpeggios that serve as the foundation and the incandescent melodic patterns that convey the music's elegiac character.
Less dense in its overall sound than Windmills is Three Solo Pieces, Melnyk's first release for Unseen Worlds since the 2007 reissue of his debut album KMH: Piano Music in the Continuous Mode (1979). All three of the pieces on the new release are of recent vintage, two of them realized in New York in late 2012 and the third in Estonia in 2010. The Unseen Worlds release offers an ideal entry point for the listener new to Melnyk's world in occasionally emphasizing the composer's mellow and subdued sides, a move that presents his music at its most accessible. The NY pieces are of modest length at eight and nine minutes while the eighteen-minute “Cloud Passade No. 3” presents itself as a side-long meditation. Patterns modulate harmoniously throughout the opening “Marginal Invitation,” making for an appealing exercise in elegant classicism that in certain moments exudes a Schubert-like quality, whereas “Corrosions on the Surface of Life” pursues a darker route in its collision of dissonant flurries—though illumination does eventually brighten that trail. They're perfectly credible exemplars of Melnyk's music, but the album's key piece is “Cloud Passade No. 3,” a gloriously chiming chordal tapestry whose insistent 6/8 pulse proves so hypnotic it induces a quasi-meditative state in the listener receptive to its charms.
In his own liner notes, Melnyk notes that each of the “Cloud Passade” pieces has an “internal chordal melody—a song that is sung by the chords, without a visible melodic line.” He's right that the melodic line in “Cloud Passade No. 3” is more alluded to than explicitly voiced, but he's even more correct in stating that the song is “sung” by the chords: there's definitely a singing quality to his music, not only in this instance but in general, that helps distinguish it so wonderfully.