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Classical

Liszt, O’Riley’s Liszt performed by pianist Christopher O’Riley (Oxingale, two discs). In one sense, this is a glorious – indeed, somewhat hilarious – anachronism, a throwback to the 19th and early 20th century age of the most outrageous virtuoso classical pianist, good taste be damned. It’s full of fortissimo pyrotechnics and no unseemly dawdling at the altar of digital (i.e. of the fingers) perfection. What we have here is Christopher O’Riley – a classical pianist who hasn’t been bashful about making adaptations of tunes by Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and Radiohead – having a two-disc field day with some piano transcriptions by Franz Liszt in what a large share of critics always thought of as Liszt’s mode of “vulgarity and claptrap.” On disc one, you’ve got Liszt’s adaptation of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Schumann’s “Spring Song,” Wagner’s “Prelude and Liebestod” from “Tristan and Isolde” and two lieder of Schubert. The piece de resistance is the second disc. O’Riley plays Liszt’s adaptation of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” usually presumed to be one of the great masterworks of orchestration in the history of music but which O’Riley, with typical cheek, claims came from an orchestra that was “a really heavy metal band.” He also claims to prefer Liszt’s piano version, which you can find an utter absurdity of the first rank while still enjoying immensely O’Riley’s performance of it. With Earl Wild no longer among us, thank heaven for O’Riley. Three and a half stars. (Jeff Simon)

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Amy Williams, Music for Piano and Strings performed by composer Amy Williams at the piano, the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo, pianist Jeffrey Jacob and Jack Quartet (Albany). It is no doubt unfair to her to make too much out of Amy Williams’ parentage – her mother violinist Diahn Williams, her father percussionist Jan Williams, one of the principal and indispensable figures in the history of avant-garde music in Buffalo. But quite apart from her own movement through the University at Buffalo’s music school, it’s insane not to acknowledge that she grew up in a household where musical adventure and, at the same time, professionalism, was the very air she breathed. Her own music is simultaneously demanding, rewarding and fascinating in its own way. Here is a full disc of it: ”Richer Textures,” a 2011 String Quartet piece inspired by the paintings of Gerhard Richter; “Brigid’s Flame,” a solo piano memorial to her Irish fireman father-in-law inspired by St. Brigid; “Falling,” a solo piano piece for fellow pianist Ursula Oppens; “Astoria,” a piano transcription of an Astor Piazzola tango; “Crossings,” a two-piano piece inspired by a Bach chorale and, most fascinatingly of all perhaps, the two-piano “Abstract Art I” and “II” which “abstract” some tropes of the great jazz pianist Art Tatum, and the Piano Quintet “Cineshape 2” inspired by Mike Figgis’ film “Time Code.” This is cerebral music, to be sure, but of impressive warmth and wit and all played to composer specifications (much of it, of course, by her). Three stars. (J.S.)

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Carlos Chavez, Piano Concerto and Solo Piano Works performed by pianist Jorge Federico Osorio and the Orquestra Nacional de Mexico conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto (Cedille). In an era where expanding performances of Chavez’s tragic Mexican contemporary Silvestre Revueltas have taken up increasing amounts of the world’s attention, performances of Chavez’s works have unfairly dwindled. Which is why it’s so heartening to have Chavez’s largely unfamiliar 1940 piano concerto performed so well here. A friend and musical favorite of Aaron Copland’s, Chavez, during his prominent life in Mexico, benefited enormously in the states from Copland’s irrepressible eminence – all to the good because so much of his music (especially the “Antigone” Symphony and the Sinfonia India) is magnificent. Revisionism hasn’t affected Copland much nor is it likely to. But Chavez has unfortunately suffered, along with many other 20th century composers who replaced radical originality in youth with neoclassicism. His 1940 Piano Concerto was premiered in 1943 in his own country with Claudio Arrau, no less, performing. It’s a first-rate modern piano concerto that could compare favorably, say, to Samuel Barber’s. Also heard here are a couple of solo piano works by Jose Pablo Moncayo and Samuel Zyman. Three stars. (J.S.)

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Klara Min, Plays Chopin Mazurkas (Delos). Mazurkas are Polish dances in three-quarter time, and Chopin mazurkas, while most of them aren’t technically demanding, require a quirky, improvisatory approach. Pianists – Polish pianists, especially – can entertain you for hours explaining the peculiar nuances of that third beat. The mazurkas are an adventure in that there is room for a lot of individuality. Pianists with stellar credentials can all take very different approaches. Klara Min has a straightforward, unstudied attack that I find refreshing in this era of overengineered piano performances. Sometimes her inner voices could be a little more polished, or her phrasing more refined, and she resists some opportunity for imagination, but I am willing to put up with a few imperfections just so it doesn’t sound overpolished. Min has also done a wonderful job of choosing the 17 mazurkas. Some of the Chopin mazurkas are better than others, and these are the best. Three stars (M.K.G.)

Jazz

Joe Locke, “Lay Down My Heart: Blues and Ballads Vol. 1” (Motema). Rochester’s Locke – who’s been featured at The Buffalo News jazz series outside the Albright-Knox Art Gallery – is one of the two representative vibraphonists in the post-Milt Jackson/Bobby Hutcherson period in jazz. (The other is Stefon Harris.) It may have something to do with the soulfully basic repertoire he plays here, but this quartet disc is one of Locke’s best discs by far in a veteran career. Anyone thinking that he owes it all to the example of the Modern Jazz Quartet would be in the right church but the wrong pew entirely. Locke, in this quartet disc, will never be as great a blues and ballad player as Milt Jackson (very few are, after all), but he’s pretty great all by himself here with the backing of Ryan Cohan, bassist David Finch and drummer Jaimeo Brown. “There is no highbrow conception here,” says Locke. “Just some songs pulled from a deep well, which will hopefully serve to feed the soul.” They do. Amen. Three and a half stars (J.S.)