WALWYN Reflections on 9/11 •
Karen Walwyn (pn) •
ALBANY RECORDS TROY 1085 (57:50)
Robert Schulslaper, Critic
Karen Walwyn, pianist, whose two compilations of African-American piano music—Dark Fires— have been favorably reviewed by Peter Burwasser (Fanfare 21:5 and 24:1), now makes her debut as Karen Walwyn, composer, with this impressive response to the 9/11 tragedy. Imaginatively conceived and executed, it both disturbingly transposes the catastrophe into appropriately cataclysmic sound and artistically suggests the aftermath’s lingering sense of numbing devastation. Understandably, Walwyn, as a budding composer, incorporates many influences in her work, but her own voice shines through. She has a personal style, and even when her models are clearly audible she bends them to her purpose. For example, the first movement’s combination of Impressionism and minimalism instills a vague sense of unease that later culminates in a merciless sonic assault memorializing the buildings’ collapse.
Reflections is a large-scale work in seven movements and Walwyn has the concentration, intensity, and technique to focus attention on its every phase and transformation. A large dynamic range, excellent pacing, attention to detail, and fleet-fingered dexterity serve her vision with grace and nobility. I especially enjoyed “Memories,” the fifth movement set of variations, in which scintillating pianism rekindles some of the essence of Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Chopin, and others. These “foreign” reminiscences embody her appreciation of the many non-American cultures whose citizens lost their lives in the catastrophe. Reflections of 9/11 ends in triumphal clangor tinged with patriotic pride. Interestingly, Walwyn was consciously determined to avoid quoting specifically American tunes, choosing instead a theme from Haydn’s Creation as her melodic focus: her unconscious obviously had other ideas, for, unless it’s purely my imagination, stirring fragments of The Star Spangled Banner are scattered throughout the final, Ivesian peroration.
Walwyn, who was, in a sense mysteriously compelled to undertake this journey, has written music that will surely resonate with listeners’ own reflections on 9/11. In my case, at least, it’s left a lasting impression.