The Free-Reed Review
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CD Review: Schneefall bei Nacht
Friedrich Lips, bajan (Pigini)


Drei Stücke in «mauvais» Stil (1992): Sergej Berinskij (b. 1946)
Partando vulp

Like a Water Buffalo (1985): Yuji Takahashi (b. 1938)
Von der Dämmerung zum Licht (1995): Edison Denissow (1929 - 1996)
Phantasie 87 (1984): Jürgen Ganzer (b. 1950)

Kammersuite (1965): Wladislaw Solotarjow (1942 - 1975)
Draußen scheint das Mondlicht
Schneefall bei Nacht
Geheimnisvolle Visionen
Ich rufe Momente tiefer Trauer
Ein altes Märchen

total time: 61:15
released: 1997
label: Lips CD 008
Order from: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store

Review by Gregory A. Vozar:

As is often the case with overused superlatives, they begin to pall and lose their luster; nevertheless, it would be difficult to write a review of this compact disk, Schneefall bei Nacht, without subjecting readers to a healthy dose of adjectives cast in the superlative degree. It took no more than listening to a few tracks to leave me open-mouthed and fumbling with the brochure, trying to find more complete information on the exquisite sounds that poured from the speakers of my stereo.

For sheer technical mastery over every aspect of his instrument, Friedrich Lips simply has no peer. As a virtuoso he is second to none, yet he never approaches demanding passages in anything but the most unprepossessing way. Certainly nothing on this recording is "tossed off" with careless abandon. Every piece he plays is given the same careful consideration and scrupulous attention to detail. This makes it extremely difficult to gauge the relative complexity of a work from the sound of its performance, for he makes the difficult sound deceptively simple. A number of pieces on this CD require the ability to play long, extended trills and simultaneous chords or counterpoint with the same hand. Lips does this so smoothly and unobtrusively that the listener is only aware of the beauty of the music, not the mechanism that produces it!

Like all free-reed instruments, the tone of the bayan or Russian chromatic accordion is very sensitive to changes in air pressure; this is most apparent when the player reverses bellows direction. For all but a very small minority of performers, this results in a small, end-of-phrase hiccup or pause. The better the accordionist, the less noticeable this is. In the Lips' book of virtuosity it has become virtually inaudible. Even in legato passages he gives us an all but seamless joining of phrases end to end; it is as if the instrument had an endless supply of air. Only the finest musicians develop such an awe-inspiring degree of control over their instruments. But that is just the beginning! To his everlasting credit, Friedrich Lips uses neither his technical expertise nor formidable virtuosity as ends in themselves; these talents are but servants of the music he performs.

And what music! This compact disk contains a superbly chosen, well-balanced group of contemporary compositions for solo bayan. It begins with the oddly titled, atonal and arrhythmic Three pieces in "mauvais" Style by Sergei Berinsky. We are told in the accompanying booklet that the individual titles "L'amour!" "Kchoo?!" and "Partando Vulp" have little to do with the concrete reality of the pieces themselves and are meant to stimulate peoples' imaginations. They certainly stimulated my curiosity! From there we leap to the other side of the globe for Yuji Takahashi's plaintive lament, Like a Water Buffalo. There are some fine choices of registration here and very controlled use of volume on the part of the performer. Edison Denissov's pensive From Dusk to Light was that composer's first work for solo bayan; while atonal, the contrapuntal and overlapping melodic layers of this piece avoid clashing harmonies and lead the listener through a transformation via music. Jürgen Ganzer's Fantasy 84 is a restless piece, filled with anticipation, punctuated by ostinato figures and repetitive chains of notes.

By far the most beautiful work on this disk is the Chamber Suite by tragically short-lived Russian composer, Wladislaw Solotarjow. Yes, this is program music, as the titles of the individual pieces that comprise the suite indicate, but it is incredibly poetic program music and woven of a very subtle and fine fabric. The harmonic colors are sweet, rich and consonant, as is the aerial texture. Cast almost entirely in transparent, atmospheric hues, these pieces all evoke thoughts of night, sleep and dreams. Vaporous and lacy treble figures are supported by deep and shifting organ-like chords from the left-hand manual, often giving a sense of serene flight over a changing dreamscape. Here one finds the sustained trills and simultaneous counterpoint mentioned above, and Friedrich Lips' secure technique allows us to don our wings and fly with him without fear of falling.

A booklet describing the program in German, English and French accompanies this excellently recorded CD; unfortunately, it lacks a photograph and biography of the performer. I might also mention the sparse and quirky quality of the English translations. For that reason, I elected to list the program in the German format. The second piece in Solotarjow's Chamber Suite is given the rather arresting English title, "Moonlight spurting outdoors." The German version uses the verb scheinen (to shine) and without doubt, that would be the most advantageous translation here!

With its varied program of contemporary works, Schneefall bei Nacht is a wonderful introduction to new music for the concert accordion or bayan. I can point to no finer interpreter of these works than Friedrich Lips nor think of another recording that I would recommend more. I only hope that I have managed to convey here a shadow of the poetry I found on this disk and that this will be an added incentive for readers to explore its contents.

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