Thomas Larcher’s piano writing in the disc’s seven-movement title work is conventional in all but the string-sawing finale. If What Becomes is the most satisfying composition here (the open-palmed leaps in its ‘Slow’ movement are intoxicating) it’s because elsewhere, when the Austrian composer-pianist strives for effect by tinkering under the bonnet of his instrument, he is not always as convincing.
Still, the customised hotrod is undeniably exciting in Smart Dust, whose prepared piano startlingly resembles a Gamelan orchestra. Even if style has it over substance it’s quite a ride and Tamara Stefanovich plays it, as she does the other solo works, with virtuosity and conviction. When in its wake a ’proper’ concert grand introduces the first of 19 brief Poems, normality sounds almost avant-garde.
While Larcher cites various influences, Bartók and George Crumb among them, he makes no mention of Messiaen, whose bright, percussive moods seem to illuminate movements like ‘Sad Yellow Whale’ (one of the Poems) and the central scherzo of What Becomes.
The composer assumes keyboard duties for A Padmore Cycle, in which both the tenor and piano voices are stripped of resonance. Like the music itself, some poems are cryptic fragments, others lyrical and direct. Their brief utterances are embedded within extended piano meditations and sung with agile self-effacement by the dedicatee.