|This Conlon Nancarrow collection originally appeared on a 1990 Musical Heritage Society disc. The iconoclastic Nancarrow is known primarily as a composer of music for player piano, a path he felt compelled to embark on when he could not secure satisfactory performances of his exceedingly difficult music. And indeed, the dazzling poly-rhythms and the dizzying multi-tempos of Study No. 15, Prelude and Blues, and Sonatina No. 15 (which violently juxtaposes classical and jazz elements) at times sound beyond the reach of reproduction by a single human being, though they are brilliantly performed here in four-hand piano arrangements.
While Nancarrow's chamber and orchestral music doesn't push physical limits in the same manner, there is a decidedly modernist bent to the String Quartet No. 1, Trio Movement, and Piece No. 2 for Small Orchestra, which at times brings to mind Nancarrow's contemporaries Stravinsky and Hindemith. Piece No. 1 fuses this style with that of New Orleans jazz, making for some clever and captivating music.
All of the works in this collection receive enthusiastic and stunningly exacting performances by ensemble Continuum, which makes even repeated listening quite compelling--as does the vivid and dynamic recorded sound. An essential disc, and Naxos' budget price makes it easy for the Nancarrow-curious to finally take the plunge.