Album du jour: Lubomyr Melnyk, “Rivers and Streams”

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“first came FRANZ LISZT….then came LUBOMYR.”

The above history of the great pianists came to you courtesy of the website of Lubomyr Melnyk, which also describes him as “one of the truly great innovators of the piano — an explorer whose remarkable technical capacities and his poetic mastery has enthralled audiences wherever he plays !”

But wait — there’s more where this came from.

LUBOMYR MELNYK is one of the most innovative and fascinating pianists/composers of this century. During the 1970’s he developed a totally new “language” for the piano, called Continuous Music,and with it, a stupendous physical and mental technique that is totally unprecedented in the history of the piano.
Using thi remarkable technique, ,Lubomyr Melnyk has set 2 world records for pianistic achievements:

  1. the FASTEST pianist in the world — sustaining speeds of over 19.5 notes per second in each hand, simultaneously, and
  2. the MOST NUMBER of NOTES in ONE HOUR — in exactly 60 minutes, Melnyk sustained an average speed of over 13 notes per second in each hand, yielding a remarkable total of 93,650 INDIVIDUAL notes.

With such agile fingers, one would perhaps expect more accurate orthography, not that I have anything to brag about on that score. One might also ask which governing body certified Melnyk’s two alleged world records. Was there a Pianolympics I didn’t hear about? Who came in second?

But all right, let’s put aside the spectacular claims for now and concentrate on the music, specifically on Melnyk’s “continuous music” technique. To spare you the chore of wading through his website’s verbiage, I’ll summarize it as the two hands independently playing intricate, gradually shifting patterns at great speed and over extended time spans while the damper pedal remains depressed, creating a ringing, shimmering sound capable of considerable beauty and euphoric effect. Not totally without precedent, Melnyk’s music triggers reminiscences of pianists/composers as dissimilar as Sergei Rachmanin0ff, Phillip Glass, George Winston and the other New Age tinklers and, for you avant-garde folks, Charlemagne Palestine and his incredible “Strumming Music” (click to listen). But having heard Melnyk once, you would never again confuse him for anyone else, or vice versa.

On “Rivers and Streams,” my first encounter with Melnyk, he is joined on a couple of tracks by either the subtle guitar accompaniment of Jamie Perera or the squalling, tropical bird-like Korean flute of Hyelim Kim. But even in the duos, the focus is on Melnyk’s keyboard prowess, one which, for all its multi-noted wizardry, tends toward the one-note in expressive range. In other words, whether his pieces are titled “Parasol,” “Sunshimmers”or “The Amazon,” Melnyk brings to each more-or-less the same onslaught of notes and a rather similar expressive arc. It’s dazzling, no question about it. But by the sixth track, few surprises are left.

Still, full credit goes to Lubomyr Melnyk for developing his style and sticking with it. It adds something unique and occasionally beautiful to the world of music, and to our lives. That’s not something to sneer at.

No Spotify playlist, alas, but you may sample each track and download the album here.

 

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