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Neo-Romantic Piano Sonatas From Australia

Vine: Complete Piano Sonatas Xiaoya Liu, piano Dynamic 7931 Total Time: 69:56 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

Australian composer Carl Vine (b. 1954) is an influential figure the country’s chamber music life but is also known for his work with the Sydney Dance Company. It was here where he served as a resident composer and further developed his craft. In 1990, his first piano sonata would be commissioned by the company. For this new Dynamic release, we get to hear Vine’s development as a keyboard composer in four sonatas written across a span of thirty years.

With a burst of extended harmony, Vine’s first sonata (1990) grabs one’s attention as it moves through some rather extremely virtuosic rapid passages and more romantic reflective sections. The Neo-Romantic style makes the music quite accessible with its broad gestures and tonal underpinning buoyed by a great rhythmic flow. Written seven years later, Vine’s second sonata (1997) has similarities in its use of a two-movement structure with the first featuring some of the episodic sections in traditional language. Forward rhythmic drive is also quite present and this leads into the second movement which also has the jazz-like harmony that surfaced in the earlier work.

Written a decade later, the third sonata (2007) features four compact movements that this time suggest earlier musical eras. The work opens with a modern “Fantasia” that has a more reflective and ultra-romantic quality due to arpeggiated harmonies. The eerier nature of the movement carries into the “Rondo” that follows which is infused with Vine’s rhythmic qualities set apart by more lyrical moments. A theme with a set of 5 variations creates an interesting change of pace with references to the opening movement. Things are rapped up with another of Vine’s technically demanding rapid-passage movements. Some of the more impressionistic qualities that floated into the earlier pieces comes more to the fore here. In the more recent fourth sonata (2019), Vine moves to explore form and connections across each of the three brief movements. Two primary ideas are the focus of the opening “Aphorisms”. A similar structure appears in “Reflection” in “reverse” providing a momentary relaxation before it builds into the “Fury” of the final movement.

Xiaoya Liu proves to be more than up to the challenge of this music. The rapid passage work truly sparkles in her hands. When the music slows up a bit one can also hear her shaping of these longer phrases as her pedaling also helps provide extra ambience. There is a crispness to the more toccata-like segments of Vine’s music that is equally impressive throughout these demanding sonatas. Liu’s performance also works to help guide the listener through the overall formal shape of the music delineating the shifts in tone superbly here.

Vine’s music is extremely engaging with a fine sense of dramatic shape that moves across each of these sonatas. The Neo-Romantic qualities further create an accessible entry point to those unfamiliar with his music while Liu’s performances are an excellent advocate for each of these sonatas. Highly recommended.


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