New Classics (April, 2003)
Time Out New York
April 10-17, 2003
Issue No. 393
"American composer Curt Cacioppo's keyboard works elude classification.
At once Baroque and modern, abstract and rooted in the vernacular,
Cacioppo's polytonal, shape-shifting fantasies move seamlessly
through varied landscapes while never losing direction or stooping
to cheap exoticism.
The main attraction on this release is Three American Fantasies for
solo piano, a reflective revisiting of familiar American hymns and
spirituals. The first, Contrapuntal Fantasy on John Newton's
'Amazing Grace,' musically recounts Newton's journey from
slave-ship captain to abolitionist cleric. Despite myriad fugal
side trips, the work inexorably follows a straight path, nicely
charted by pianist Kenneth Fearn. Ostinato-Fantasia on 'All
Creatures of Our God and King,' performed by Paul Orgel, presents
a driving, soulful breakdown of the titular hymn, followed by a
swirling morass from which the tune slowly rematerializes. In the
concluding Fantasy-Choruses on 'This Little Light of Mine,' the
spiritual gradually emerges from a busy dialogue, serving as conclusion
rather than starting point. Charles Abramovic's light touch works
wonders in revealing the metamorphosis.
The disc also includes two fantasies for organ: The first, "Di
cibo celeste," explores musical material from Mozart's Don
Giovanni, while the second, Vision of the Crusades,
evokes the battles of the First Crusade. Haunting and powerful,
these works abound with smoldering clusters and delightful detours.
Moreover, Robert Gallagher's commendable performances are worth
hearing for the powerful, crystal-clear engineering alone."
Fanfare - June/July 2004 - by Robert Carl
"Curt Cacioppo (b. 1951) lives and works in the Philadelphia area. The predominant impression given by this music is of a composer who exudes energy, enthusiasm, ambition, and a desire to embrace as many desperate cultural strands into his music as possible.
Cacioppo is trained as a pianist as well, and his knowledge of the instrument shows in the first three works on this disc, which form a set of "Three American Fantasies," which may be performed separately or together. These pieces are large in scale and dense in ideas. Cacioppo is a composer who obviously loves to interpret the wider world through music; various gestures and techniques make specific reference to different ideas and historical events (as per the program notes). He also is utterly unafraid to mix different stylistic languages as a musical analogue to this intellectual discourse. What's striking about this approach is that, unlike many composers enamored of postmodern juxtapositions, Cacioppo's stylistic shifts, no matter how sudden, don't sound forced or fake. While I can't do the sort of intense analysis probably necessary to discover why the arrival at a blues moment out of chromatic fog is somehow right (or at least acceptable), I do feel strongly that the composer has built an architecture that allows this diversity to coexist and cross-fertilize naturally.
Cacioppo also has technique to burn. The "Amazing Grace" fantasia exults in florid counterpoint reminiscent of Mahler, Strauss, and Reger. The "All Creature of Our God and King" fantasy alternates between funk and intense modernist chromaticism. And that on "This Little Light of Mine" begins in a distant, impressionistic realm and slowly moves toward the revelation a thumping, barrelhouse rendition of the source tune.
Obviously, Cacioppo has something in common with Ives, though John Session's notes seem to discourage too much of such association. And it's true, Cacioppo's music is obviously the result of extreme consideration and calculation; there's not a lot that sounds improvisatory in it, even when its fancy is free. Perhaps a closer comparison might be made to the composer Cacioppo overtly acknowledges as a mentor, his neighbor George Rochberg. There's the same fierce consideration of moral and cultural issues embodied in music form, and a similar willingness to move between wildly differing languages. Though, at the same time, Cacioppo's shifts seem more gradual and less abrupt than many of Rochberg's—he tends not to use the "hard-splice" as a modulation from one music to another.
The two concluding works for organ are a little more abstract, in that their original thematic materials are more disguised or "sub-strata." I also find them a little less engaging, though they also show a real understanding of the organ, and what works idiomatically for it, though without falling into cliché; the opening and closing of the Di cibo celeste fantasia, with its huge, crushing cluster, is unforgettable.
If there is any reservation I have about this music, it is perhaps its very density and prolixity. There's not a lot of rest or space in it. One gets the impression of an artist so deeply concerned with and enthusiastic about his materials that he can rarely stay quiet long enough to hear something outside the immediate range of his voice. The work is not cluttered, and its substance is satisfying; but at times, I felt a yearning for some simple beauties mixed in with the rich brew of musical ideas.
If there is any composer of whom Cacioppo reminds me, ironically, it is Schoenberg. I realize this may send some potential listeners fleeing, but I assure them that Cacioppo's music doesn't sound like Schoenberg's, and there's no surface box-office-poison to fear here. Rather, it's that very desire to wring meaning out of every gesture, to see all the elements of a piece function on multiple levels, in multiple ways, that seems similar. It's also the reason the music can be a little exhausting, too; at times it may seem to try too hard.
But that is, at the least, the by-product of a deep ambition and willingness to take a risk. This is conservative music, but deeply adventurous; it respects tradition, but doesn't bow before it. I think Cacioppo sees himself in an intense dialogue with his preceding masters, mano a mano, and I have to respect that.
These are all composer-supervised performances by musicians with whom Cacioppo has worked closely, so they should be definitive. However, I found Kenneth Fearn's rendition a little too sharp and steely; and Paul Orgel, at times, seems to labor over certain gestures that I feel should be rendered in a somewhat more offhand, devil-may-care manner. But, since I don't have the scores, it's unclear if this is the result of the music or its execution, and I give these pianists the benefit of the doubt.
A strange omission in the notes is that of any timings at all. Fortunately, my computer can give me a readout, so readers don't miss out on this info. For anyone interested, please read my review of Sherban Lupu's recital program to see a few general recommendations about essential program information I make to Capstone.
In the end, I hope readers see that, while I may have some reservations, I find this to be music that I respect and by which I am challenged. Those looking for similar challenge should take it up as well."