Reviews for Benjamin Boren plays Carl Vine

Benjamin Boren is a terrific pianist. His recording of my collected major piano solos displays a keen and dedicated mind behind some prodigious technical power. Even the finest pianists often struggle to capture the precise nature of these works, but Benjamin's interpretations invariably choose the best-sounding paths with assurance and finesse. I recommend these recordings to anyone seeking to understand my music for piano. Ben does.
Carl Vine, March 2012.

As Lang Lang and other superstars continue to record familiar repertoire by Chopin and Rachmaninoff (not that I’m complaining), some other young pianists prove more imaginative in their programming. Benjamin Boren’s recording of the three finger-twisting sonatas by Australian composer Carl Vine is a case in point. I liked this disc a lot back in January; now I’m in love with it. Extraordinary music; thoughtful, impressively realized performances.
Phillip Scott, Fanfare, 2012: Nov/Dec

Australian composer Carl Vine’s piano sonatas are challenging works, requiring a big technique. No. 3 was composed as recently as 2007, but this music is a continuance of 20th century piano traditions, forged out of Ravel, Rachmaninov, Tippett and Messiaen. Vine’s harmonic processes, underpinning the quicksilver and often elaborate surfaces, are determinedly tonal. The 12 brief Anne Landa Preludes are concentrated fragments, focussing on a specific form (Tarantella, Fughetta, Chorale) or image (Filigree, Romance). None of them lasts longer than three minutes.
The Australian pianist Michael Kieran Harvey recorded Vine’s first two sonatas (both of which were composed for him) and the Anne Landa Preludes for the ABC and Tall Poppies labels over the last decade. I wrote a review of one of these discs in issue 30:5, and would direct interested readers to it. Harvey is a much underrated and stunning virtuoso; his playing dazzles. Indiana-born Benjamin Boren also clearly has the technique to take these works on. If he lacks Harvey’s bravura, it is no small compliment to say that Boren taps into the musical essence beneath the dazzle. The beginning of the Carter-influenced 1st Sonata is a case in point: In Boren’s hands the opening exudes a dreamy quality with a sense of things to come, then as the music awakens into a jumpy scherzando episode, building in intensity, he brings a playfulness to the proceedings. Parts of all three sonatas contain jazz influenced passages and¾as in true jazz¾Boren allows the music to unfold with spontaneity and a continual sense of discovery. He understands the quasi-improvisational nature of Vine’s music.
With the 3rd Sonata, the composer modifies his language somewhat, creating sparser and more concentrated textures in the earlier movements while saving his usual fireworks for the Presto finale¾and even that contains a gentle central episode. This work is more of a traditional sonata in that it consists of four movements, unlike its two-movement predecessors. Here Boren comes into his own, exploring the nuances of the sonata’s third movement (a set of variations) with considerable subtlety. He is adept at bringing out the mysterious quality of certain sections of the first movement, which seem to conjure up¾as so many Australian works do¾images of the country’s vast landscape. Although it is a recent work, Boren’s recording of the 3rd sonata is not a premiere: the piece appeared last year in a mixed recital by the young Australian pianist Adam Herd. (That excellent disc, unreviewed in Fanfare, is entitled From Shadows and also includes music by Piazzolla, Rachmaninov and Liadov. It is on the Master Performers label, MP 004, available from Amazon or Australian importers.) Herd gives a classically restrained performance, atmospheric and very well recorded, but I prefer Boren’s greater imagination. The latter quality is also at work in the aphoristic preludes, named for a late patron of the arts.
Boren’s disc is highly recommendable for a number of reasons, quite apart from the high standard of his performance. For one thing, it brings together most of Vine’s piano music on one disc, certainly his major works, and this is music every piano aficionado should know. Primarily, it introduces (to me at any rate) an imaginative, impressive young pianist in uncommon but important repertoire. While the big labels continue to re-record the same pieces (for example, brilliant British wunderkind Benjamin Grosvenor’s first Decca recital, consisting of the Chopin Scherzi and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit …again!), this small outfit from Bloomington, Indiana serves to remind us that there are still enterprising, adventurous people working in the classical music industry.

Phillip Scott, Fanfare, 2012: Jan/Feb

In his informative review of Michael Kieran Harvey’s excellent CD covering most of this repertoire (Tall Poppies 190), Phillip Scott aptly summarized Vine’s music as “large-gesture Lisztian Romanticism, tempered by the influence of Messiaen, Carter, and other modernists” (30:5). You might also want to throw Kapustin (or the jazz pianists who inspired him) and Ives into the mix—and perhaps Debussy as well (surely, “La Cathédrale engloutie” hovers beneath the Lento middle section of the First Sonata’s second movement). But while those points of orientation help describe Vine’s overall style (at least in the works I’ve heard), they don’t quite define it: Vine is more than a magpie, and his mercurial and often whimsical temperament, coupled with his obvious enthusiasm for the instrument’s bravura potential, give his music a distinctive profile. It’s simultaneously accessible, modern, individual, and (not least) thrilling; and it’s therefore no wonder that the 1990 First Sonata has become such a popular vehicle for imaginative virtuosos hoping to make a different kind of splash.
Benjamin Boren’s pedigree involves study with such radically different pianists as Andre Watts, Jerome Lowenthal, Gilbert Kalish, and Claude Frank (among others)—and he approaches the music with an impressive blend of musicality and technical panache. The most volatile torrents of notes are delivered with steadiness and clarity; more important, he has an impressive vertical tact. Vine often superimposes musical ideas with differing colors, rhythms, and spirits—and no matter how fearsome the textures, Boren manages to keep the conflicts (especially the rhythmic conflicts) keenly focused.
Is he better than Harvey? Perhaps not: Harvey sometimes handles transitions more cannily; and the more explosive sections (like the glissandos into the forearm clusters at measures 104 and 160 in the first movement of the First) have even greater effect in his hands. Harvey is also slightly more sensitive to Vine’s sentimental side (for instance, in the Romance from the Anne Landa Preludes). But Boren is certainly in the same league; and in place of the Bagatelles and Red Blues on Harvey’s recording, Boren gives us the first recording that I’ve encountered of the 2007 Third Sonata. Boren’s notes suggest that it’s an “introspective and brooding” work that  offers “relief [from] the extraordinary virtuosity of the first two Sonatas.”  He’s certainly right about a shift in emphasis: the earlier sonatas may have their flashes of evocative beauty, but they’re far more prevalent—even dominant—here. Still, those looking for dazzle won’t be entirely disappointed, either—especially in the final pages of the Presto finale. Even if you already own the Harvey CD, then, you’ll probably want this one, too. Strongly recommended.
Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare, 2012: Jan/Feb