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WU by Rudolf Komorous performed by Eve Egoyan

Earlier in the week I received in the mail two new CDs from the Canadian pianist Eve Egoyan, who specializes in the performance of new works. I popped the first one into my disk drive and I haven’t been able to listen to anything else since. The recording is a single, hour-long solo piano piece called Wu by Rudolf Komorous, who describes himself as “an old composer, born and educated in Prague.” Komorous moved to Canada in 1969 and was appointed Director of the School of Music at the University of Victoria and later Director of the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. He is now retired and lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Wu is a Zen concept that means the “not” expected and the experience of listening to Komorous’ mesmerizing meditation is rather like sitting in a quiet park on a spring day watching a cherry tree and waiting for a blossom to fall…or not fall. This is the sort of thing we Americans do far too little of; we have little tolerance for silence or unpredictability. But, there is element at work here that goes well beyond style. If you listen carefully, you realize that the notes are not random at all; they are stories, fragments of memory, drawn from some other place and some other time, told in no particular order or, in some cases, in whatever order the performer chooses. Imagine a 70-something composer sitting in a porch swing, daydreaming of his childhood, drawing out of himself-in a kind of free associative manner-the pre-urban, rustic sounds and folksongs and lullabies that comforted him as a child. Having reached the age where such memories are frequent and bittersweet, I recognize all too clearly Komorous’ longing to walk, once more, along a certain overgrown path. WU is the spirtual heir to Janacek’s great paen to memory and aging and a masterpiece in its own right. – SEQUENZA 21

“Wu” in Zen is ‘not’ the expected. The pleasure of Komorous’ WU is the pleasure of the unexpected. Listening to a line of notes falling like water drops from a melting icicle, at irregular intervals, a note rising when you anticipate it will descend, a chord appearing in a line of single notes like a crow in a flight of sparrows. The pleasure of the unexpected. WU is a one movement composition made up of 31 segments divided by rests, the duration of each note and the tempo (variations on slow) of their succession is a collaboration between composer and pianist. The intelligence, taste and emotion of the collaborators merge and emerge in each moment and in each succession of moments-an engaging sequence of choices. The silent spaces leave room for humour and delight. What the music leaves out frames our pleasure. The space is peace. In that space colours arise. Here, each note has the opportunity to utter the sound of its arrival, dwelling, and passing away. Their sequences, while sometimes hinting at melody, are less like song and more like conversation. This music is not built on cultural agreements intended to be shared by a collective. Everything about WU is individual. Everything about it pushes you back into your own time. From this dot you can dissolve into the circle of the big picture. Oddly, this music, that at first listening might appear as non-sense, becomes a lovely discourse seemingly native to the understanding. WU is a sensitive and elegant collaboration, deep in feeling, displayed with impeccable dignity. – The Live Music Report

The hour-long piece unfolds at an almost glacial pace. The stripped down nature of WU draws the listener’s attention to every subtle nuance of Egoyan’s playing. It abundantly clear why she’s sought after by composers from around the world, you can feel the passion that went into every note of the recording. WU starts off slowly, with notes appearing seemingly out of nowhere, lulling the listener into a hypnotic, dream-like state. The first jolt seems to come out of nowhere at the 20 minute mark when Egoyan pounds out several chords before settling back into the languid nature of the piece. This CD is perfectly suited to quiet contemplation or meditation. Egoyan’s carefully restrained playing brings a sense of awe-inspiring beauty to the piece, proving that you can often achieve the best results by taking a simple approach to music. – sceneandheard.ca

…Rudolf Komorous’s WU, the haunting 60-minute solo piano piece he wrote for Eve Egoyan. WU proceeds one note at a time for the most part, with too much intent to be strictly meditative but with little predictable pattern. Motion (or volume) may briefly escalate; the few chords seem, within this ascetic, almost wholly linear context, extraordinary, unique. Anticipations fail to materialize; implications withhold their significance. Yet the piece resists its own transparency with such authority that we willingly go back to it again for answers we don’t expect to find. – Globe and Mail

The collaboration of Rudolf Komorous and Eve Egoyan was fortunate in last year’s Strange Sphere (on Artifact records). Now that collaboration has paid yet another dividend to us listeners. Amazingly, WU is just the pianist alone in a room, playing this vast work. As with so much of Komorous’ output, the stark simplicity forces us to listen ever more closely. For a full hour, the slow-moving melodic line expands and folds in upon itself and expands again. Endless variation in that manner is completely unprecedented. At times, I am reminded of Sorabaji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum, but that does Komorous a disservice; WU is a masterwork in its own right. The melody briefly gives way for an actual chord, finally, about 20 minutes from the start. The effect is startling in the context of the piece. – WholeNote

credits

released January 1, 2005

Composer: Rudolf Komorous
Pianist: Eve Egoyan
Producer and sound engineer: Christopher Butterfield.

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