Album Review: Timo Andres’ “Home Stretch”
This is my first time (in)formally reviewing an album. My immediate disclaimer is that I am reviewing this solely from the point-of-view of a music lover. This will not be a scholarly response to one’s music (if the reader expects that.)
It is with great conviction that I attempt to review (commend and praise) this album in the hopes that others will want to give it a go.
My review’s thesis statement: this album rocks.
I am a late bloomer of sorts to the ambiguously termed collection of musical genres of “contemporary classical.” I genuinely think that there is a place for this music in everyone’s mental compartmentalization of the arts.
I discovered Timo Andres by way of Twitter. My quick lineage to all this great music is that a friend once introduced me to the Punch Brothers. I followed them on Twitter and discovered Gabriel Kahane. (Kahane, next to Mahler, has been one of my personal greatest musical influences so far in life.) By following Kahane I discovered Andres.
It was only recently that I bought his album Home Stretch, (as it was released 30 July 2013). I was completely blown away by what I got myself into. You can read his biography here. He is the composer (and “re-composer” as it were) and pianist on this album.
So on to the music.
Track 1. Home Stretch
This is a piano concerto he wrote while he was a student at Yale. Usually, when one thinks of a “piano concerto” they think of the piano playing a heavier, more dominant role in the piece, with lots of virtuosic and tricky patterns. Instead, the piano lays back a times making the entire piece a collaborative conversation, rather than, “Orchestra speaks, now the piano speaks,” and so on and so forth. There are layers of rhythmic mapping throughout the piece that definitely portray the title: running on the home stretch to the finish line (of “life,” and maybe not literally as in a track and field event…)
There is a constant yearning for resolution but at the same time I’m totally okay without it. There are too many beautiful, hopeful and gloomy sounds happening, perhaps painting a picture of trial and error to reach one’s personal goals.
Or, to recommend this with way less metaphorical assumption, the piece just sounds so damn cool. If you’ve ever had a piece of music that pumps you up, inspires you in some way, or just generally puts you in a good mood, I believe this piece of music will also achieve that. You don’t need to know what a piano concerto is, or whatever the heck I meant by “rhythmic mapping.” If you know what “good music” is to you, I feel confident that you can enjoy this music.
Track 2 – 4. Concerto for Piano in D Major: I. Allegro, II. Larghetto, III. Allegretto (Recomposition of the “Coronation” Concerto, K. 537)
THIS IS SO RAD! So right off the bat I think that any classical Baroque music is easy for anyone to listen to. It is very tonal and harmonically easy to comprehend. By that I mean, if you’ve never heard a Baroque piece of music before chances are you can whistle along with it on a first-time listen.
In short, Andres took a piano concerto written by Mozart (you’ve heard of him, eh?) and wrote in the left-hand parts, which Mozart never wrote down. Mozart also didn’t write most of his cadenzas (that’s where the piano is playing all alone). So Andres wrote those too. Andres also added bassoon parts which were never originally included. Other than that (a hefty chunk) the music remained the same.
You know that “nasty/disgusted face of approval” you make when music is grooving and really good? (Kind of like this:)
This entire recomposition of this piano concerto had me wearing that expression.
Without going into any harmonic analysis of what Andres wrote (what I think he wrote), just know that, for me, it is completely intellectually and physically moving. This music beckons me to dance (albeit terribly whilst forgetting my blinds are up) all over my living room and completely clears my mind of other matters. I can both not concentrate on listening and/or intently concentrate on listening and remain content and rejuvenated, either way.
I will say that Andres’ version of the 2nd movement, the Larghetto, is immediately prettier than the original.
Boom. Said it. Come at me Mozart heart-throbs.
It floats and calms in a different manner than the original. That left hand, at the beginning, gives the mood just a slight variation in color. There is a feeling akin to that of Home Stretch in that it provides a bit of a hopeful, silently crowd-cheering, ruse to a finish line, all the while I could let it go on forever.
The 3rd movement, the Allegretto, is absolutely the rock n’ roll part of this piece, in both the original and Andres’ version. The only specific musical item I will include in praising this section is that I had to loop from 3:39 to 3:46. WOWSERS is that cool. Like, OF COURSE this guy is a composer.
Here is a video of a performance of the original version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26, Dmaj, K.537:
Compare that to (probably BUY it, also):
There’s no reason you can’t jam to this music like you do to anything else. It’s amazing. It is rock n’ roll, of a different flavor.
Track 5: Eno Paraphrase
I knew nothing of Brian Eno before this track, and to be honest I still don’t. I am now curious and will be checking out his stuff. Eno Paraphrase, as I understand it, is a collection of quotations and influences from Brian Eno’s music.
So immediately disregarding that information, as I am uninformed in Eno’s music, the piece is a lovely soundscape. Etherial and simplistically pleasant, this piece pulls you in to moments of elation, only to ruse you into moments of dark uncertainty. Every time the strings glissando down to that quiet minor chord I get chills. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been on such a recent kick of studying Mahler’s personal life and how he viewed the world, but I get the same feeling from this as I do from Mahler.
I get the sense that there is a question(s) of, “What is my purpose? What does the world do for me? What do I do for it?” Contemplation fills this piece. I am insisted to think about my own goals, opinions, emotions when listening to this.
This final track serves as the other slice of bread to the stacked sandwich that is this album. (I’m writing this having not eaten yet. Just go along with the metaphors…) A companion to the first track Home Stretch it serves as the post-meal coffee or nightcap—the one where you sit around with your friends and discuss life.
This entire album is a bit palindromic (that’s a compliment). I could listen to this, bottom to top, and still experience the same set of emotions. The order does not restrict enjoyment. Even on shuffle the beauty and satisfaction is there.
I am always in search of music that can be enjoyed by everyone. I truly believe that this is an example of that. I already know who will enjoy this. I really want the folk who would not give this a chance, to give it a chance. As a tidal wave of dishonest, insincere, and rushed music floods our ears, and as a lover of the opposite I feel required to highlight beauty when it comes along.
My iTunes library on shuffle goes something like: Anaïs Mitchell, Lil Wayne, most things by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Taylor, Christian Scott, and now Timo Andres. (And that’s only referencing musicians that have a significant level of recognition already—not including up-and-coming musicians.) Those are musicians that I enjoy. To me, their music is good. What makes it good for me is that I can detect the integrity and effort that was put into its creation.
If you are a lover of good music, buy Timo Andres’ Home Stretch. It is wonderful. It is moving. It is simple, yet is definitely not simple. Good music does not require any level of educational authority to enjoy. If you enjoy something you enjoy something.
Give his music a go. Enjoy it. I do.