International Piano

Do you despair of hearing contemporary music that is neither bland nor rebarbative, that excites and stirs, both viscerally and spiritually, and does not constantly remind you of other composers? If so, this disc is for you.

Here is a strikingly original voice; and Earl’s originality lies principally in his handling of harmony. Essentially tonal, his music is characterised by unexpected – frequently surprising, sometimes shocking but always expressively convincing – shifts, displacements and modulations, like the ever-changing surface of water under the influence of wind and light. For example, the heavenly Lento tranquillo from Mandalas (the only movement reminiscent – though clearly intentionally – of another composer’s work, Chopin’s Berceuse) begins in D flat major, like its model, but a stray G natural heralds a gradual drift away from the home key into distant tonal and emotional realms.

This is water that runs deep but is not still. Earl’s own notes to Divine Art’s laudable release – the long-overdue first commercial recording of any of the 56-year-old composer’s 30 works, might suggest that his music is coolly intellectual. Nothing could be further from the truth: it is literally bursting with passion, its rhythms energising, its melodies soaring and searing. In Mandalas (Earl’s most recent solo piano composition, completed in 1996) one constantly expects an orchestral tutti to erupt from the texture, such is the intensity of the piano writing – and of Earl’s blistering pianism.

The 1998 Cello Sonata (in three movements and, like Mandalas, lasting almost half an hour) is no less intoxicating, opening in bright, extrovert mood but ending with an elegy of indescribable poignancy. Do not be put off by the bathroomy recordings or the young cellist’s shaky intonation; this disc will blow you away.

—Joe Laredo