Editor’s Choice: Instrumental, August 2016

Among the 31 (mostly) short pieces on Butterflying is Lullaby for Nick, an adult embellishment of Elena Kats-Chernin’s first composition, written at age six. Lyrical and wistful, it is a fascinating early manifestation of the prodigious talent that developed into the powerhouse that she is today.

This new double CD is a selection of music composed for her first instrument and love, piano, and on which she teams up with a fellow virtuoso who also began her musical career as a child prodigy. Tamara-Anna Cislowska gave her first public performance at two, playing Bartók, commenced studies at the Sydney Conservatorium at six and won the ABC Young Performer Award in 1991 at 14, the youngest ever winner. Although Cislowska’s repertoire spans five centuries, she has come to be particularly associated with contemporary Australian composers, winning an ARIA Award in 2015 for her ABC recording of Peter Sculthorpe’s Complete Works for Solo Piano. Ten years in the making, that project involved extensive collaboration between performer and composer; so too did Butterflying

In Cislowska, Kats-Chernin has found the perfect transmitter and musical partner who combines technical prowess with a particular depth of understanding for these works: they are a true dream team. 13 works for four hands are performed by Kats-Chernin and Cislowska together, and the album contains 14 world premieres. It’s a dazzling collection in which a Russian influence is strongly evident – Kats-Chernin grew up with the music of Scriabin and Rachmaninov and studied at the prestigious Gnessin Institute in Moscow; Cislowska has also been trained in traditional Russian pianism. All this is evident in the “symphonious cascades” that tumble forth in these dynamic, virtuosic pieces, cut through with a minimalist sense of space that recalls the piano music of Philip Glass. 

The title track Butterflying exemplifies this combination of influences, imagining a dream-state flight; For Richard is all melancholy repeated notes and pensive pedalling, written in memory of young violinist Richard Pollett. By contrast, Chorale, written for Australian pianist Lisa Moore is an understated highlight – a sparse, deeply thoughtful study in economy. Vocalise was written for the Mental Health Institute in Melbourne, and Dance of the Paper Umbrellas for the Hush project. Cislowska has described these piano pieces as works in which “volleys of notes, notions and novelties fly past in endless rapid-fire clouds,” which is a perfect summation of this lushly recorded and extremely accessible collection. Fasten your seatbelts and hold on.