Two Piano Concertos from David Chesky

Given that David Chesky has just followed the digital release of his Second and Third Piano Concertos with a January 13 performance of his Violin Concerto No.3 by Rachel Barton Pine and the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra, some might say he's on a roll. Others, listening to the pace of two new piano concertos inspired what liner notes writer Harold Lester calls "the chaos of [Chesky's] adopted New York City," might instead think "roller coaster."

Using the same Chesky-assembled Orchestra of the 21st Century as on The Spanish Poems recording that he released six months earlier, but this time with himself as soloist, Chesky launches into a "collision of atonal harmonies in counterpoint." That some of the music in Concerto No.2 for Piano and Orchestra (2017) is atonal is, to these ears, secondary to the frenzied pace of the 6-minute opening movement. Chesky's fugal writing and counterpoint add extra life to a non-stop experience that could leave some holding on for dear life, and cause more than one caged hamster to jump off the wheel.

Lester calls the far quieter second movement "one of the most tranquil, mesmerizing and sublime" pieces Chesky has ever written. It variously brought to mind a spider stealthily spinning its web and then preparing to pounce on a trapped insect, and two spies for the CIA inching closer to a daring escape from enemy forces. Clearly, they need to run for their lives, because the concerto's rapid pace resumes in the final movement. Listeners familiar with The Spanish Poems will recognize the harmonies and figures which close the under 16-minute concerto.

Given that New York City will not change overnight, the frenzied pace continues in the similarly short Piano Concerto No.3. Chesky calls it his "jazz piano concerto," and points to the fusion of South American dance, fugue, blues and jazz in the first movement. The engaging mystery of the middle movement seems to drop us in the midst of a cat and mouse game in which the engagement of piano, glockenspiel and vibraphone is quite captivating.

The five-minute close is derived from Chesky's second New York Rag, "The Bernstein" (2013), and meant as an homage to New York composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein. Given that the Bernstein Centennial is now upon us, the dedication is apt. You'll hear a few references to West Side Story amidst playing so rapid and virtuosic that it might convince more than a few Jets and Sharks that they can make a stronger statement with music than with knives and guns.

Background music this ain't. But for those, like me, who tend to pass those who walk or drive too slowly, and even curse them under our breath, Chesky's new Piano Concertos will ring true.

dalethorn's picture

I bought it with the intent that I would listen only to Movements 2 and 2. But in the event that I find myself lying awake at night, anxious about what I might be missing in the other Movements, I'll just press the magic button that plays those other tracks.

Edit: As it turns out, I never got to the first and third movements of either concerto, but just as well. These second movements, while easier on my ears (and rather short at 5 minutes or less), have a wealth of interesting sounds that take time and repeated listenings to digest.