In his excellent liner notes, pianist Philip Thomas (who, as ever, does an extraordinary job here) cites John Cage and Christian Wolff as major influences on Fox, but I'd say one would be hard pressed to make those connections based on the four solo piano works presented herein. Thomas also notes a certain mischievousness on the part of the composer, a willingness to see "what would happen if...?" and to observe the effects when systems collide; that's quite clear.
The four pieces range from some 10 to 24 minutes in duration, thus offering fairly complete examples of the range of Fox's interests and those ranges are apparently very widespread. "L'ascenseur" is all about active, propulsive rumblings in the lower registers at the beginning, containing a passing nod to minimalism, though of the sort found in Rzewski circa the mid-70s, something I was reminded of often. There's a submerged lyricism amidst the churning, not dissimilar in character to Rzewski's "Winnsbro Cotton Mill Blues", for instance. As the title implies, the pitches gradually ascend and the density of notes decreases, the blurred conglomerations separating in space, like a turgid liquid transforming into delicate water droplets. Vibrant and strong, a striking work. "at the edge of time" might be said to allude to Cage's "Sonatas and Interludes" with its southeast Asian references, but I hear more Java than Bali, particularly the slower, dreamier Jegog tradition. It uses just one pitch on top of a lower register scale prepared with pieces of rubber so that the resulting harmonics vary enough that the pitch limitation is not immediately apparent. It's a very beautiful effect, the notes suspended, resonating and managing to contain their own sense of progression despite their "stillness" in reality. Very impressive and striking.
The instructions for "Thermogenesis" amusingly require the pianist to begin the performance wearing mittens. When removed, gloves are revealed, which are ultimately taken off as well. This, naturally enough, leads to an increased sharpness and clarity as the work progresses from brutal, pounded chords to somewhat more defined variations on same (still pounded!). "Republican Bagatelles" takes as its starting point "variations on variations by Beethoven and Ives" and spirals outward from there. Its turbulent nature and incorporations of various themes (including, at several points, "The Red Flag", which listeners may better recognize as "O Tanenbaum") again recall Rzewski, though tinged with a different melodicism. It rampages gleefully, theme after theme, rarely pausing for breath, scooping up a snatch of pastoral beauty here, plowing through a tumultuous avalanche of cadences there, ending with a triumphant flourish.
It's all very impressive work, perhaps carrying a tinge of coolness, something not found too often in Wolff, but beautifully performed by Thomas and well worth investigating.
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