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Keyboard Thursday album review: Pianist Eve Egoyan's enchanting drift through music by Ann Southam

By John Terauds on April 18, 2013


At the first of this year’s New Music 101 presentations at the Toronto Reference Library, pianist Eve Egoyan told us how she prefers to play the music of composers she can speak to. Judging from her new album, which has its official launch tomorrow, Egoyan must have shared particularly intimate exchanges with the late Ann Southam.

When Toronto-based Southam died of cancer in 2010, she left behind unpublished and some unfinished pieces that were intended for Egoyan. The pianist recorded them in January at the Glenn Gould Studio for tomorrow’s release on the Canadian Music Centre’s Centrediscs label.

55: Music of Ann Southam is a continuation of the composer’s fascination with very slow, kaleidoscopic transformation of sound using a few very simple chords inside of which a tone row gradually unfolds at the speed of a tulip blossom opening on a warm, sunny spring morning.

The album contains five pieces, two entitled Returnings, and three untitled works. Interestingly, each is assigned a specific key, but the tone row contained in each doesn’t necessarily follow that prescribed pattern.

The CD’s liner notes, eloquently written by Tamara Bernstein, describe how this reflects Southam’s perception of human life as walking the narrow line between consonance and dissonance.

Egoyan and her recording helpers found the right piano, acoustic and microphone placement to put everything we hear at the service of Southam’s purpose.

Our task, as listeners, is to surrender to this alternate universe, which moves at its own pace, not ours, while exposing us to the mesmerising power of slow transformation.

There is a rhythmic component to this music, as well, one that rocks the listener ever so gently. The intimacy of the experience brought tears to my eyes.

The older I get, the more I come to appreciate the virtues of simplicity, of how one carefully chosen object in a room can speak far more eloquently than a wall full of tchotchkes.

Composers are rarely rewarded for subtracting notes from their creations, and are often looked down upon if their music is too accessible. But I can only sit slack-jawed in wonder at an imagination that can achieve so much with so little — and for Egoyan to treat the music with such respect and care.

Here we have something timeless as well as timely. It’s an antidote to the quick fix, the adrenaline rush, to the daily parade of shiny objects. It also transcends the artificial dividing lines between genres and categories.

I know I’m gushing, but this is one of the marvels of 2013.

You can find out more about this disc here.

And for more information on Friday’s Glenn Gould Studio recital, which includes works by other composers, click here.

John Terauds


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