The Poetry of Places, Nadia Shpachenko’s CD recorded in 2017 and just now released by Reference Recordings is a celebration of new music featuring a formidable pianist in the company of top practitioners in the field.

Andrew Norman’s Frank’s House opens the CD with an ironic musical commentary on the use of contemporary construction materials overlaid upon a 1920’s bungalow  transformed by architect Frank Gehry in 1977 into a residence for his family.

The composer expresses the spirit of Gehry’s work through the juxtaposing of sentimental tunes played by pianists Nadia Shpachenko and Joanne Pearce Martin against the skills of two agile percussionists, Nick Terry and Cory Hills, interrupting the proceedings with the metallic scraping and banging of a building in progress. Poetically, Norman conveys in musical terms the improbable yet possible marriage of the traditional and the unconventional.

Throughout The Poetry of Places, Nadia Shpachenko valiantly navigates the now tranquil, now tumultuous waters of eight new works, six of them commissioned by and dedicated to her.

Set aside for a moment the technique and musicianship it takes to learn and then master Harold Meltzer’s In Full Sail, an intriguing study in musical pointillism. Meltzer’s work tackles a pianistic description of Frank Gehry’s IAC building in New York’s Chelsea. Then simply focus on the poetic sensibility and musicality required to play Meltzer’s music, and you will begin to get an idea of the accomplishments of Nadia Shpachenko.

Jack Van Zandt’s intense depiction of the massive Neolithic monument Sí an Bhrú and Shpachenko’s now muscular now delicate response to each of its six sections is transfixing, with composer and interpreter joining forces with splendid results.

Hannah Lash wrote Give Me Your Songs inspired by a visit to Aaron Copland’s former home, now a National Historic Landmark and a creative center for American musicians in Cortland Manor, NY. Her composition is a loving tribute to the tranquil environment of Copland’s bucolic refuge, here given a lyrical performance by Shpachenko.

Amy Beth Kirsten composed h.o.p.e, inspired by the transformative power of the 2015 art exhibit The Big Hope Show in The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Her work is childlike in its unpretentiousness, and both humorous and moving: a composition for toy piano and one female vocalist, which Shpachenko plays with the necessary light touch.

Alone, in waters shimmering and dark is composer James Matheson’s musical response to a sighting of a house on an island in the middle of a lake in Pine Plains, NY. Reminiscent in its first movement of Debussy’s La Cathédral engloutie with its massive cluster chords in the bass allowed by the pianist to linger on by the use of the sustaining pedal, the intriguing three-part tocattina moves on to a syncopated scherzo in Capillary Waves, and on to a brief final movement embodying the peace of static quietude.

Lewis Spratlan embraces a mix of mysticism and modernity in Bangladesh appositely evoking the strides made by the Asian nation’s proud people before and after the building of Louis Kahn’s National Assembly in Dhaka.

The five movement, fifteen-minute long composition never overstays its welcome by repeating itself, taking instead an eclectic compositional path that incorporates raga-like riffs and motifs, ostinato figures, and the use of pitches that become symbols of the various phases of construction of the project. Spratlan’s work is as sizeable and ambitious as the building it portrays, and is given a formidable performance by Shpachenko.

The CD comes to a close with Nina C. Young’s Kolokol, for which Joanne Pearce Martin is again called upon as second pianist. The two pianists bring to life the sounds of Russian Orthodox church bells, which the composer skillfully replicates and then manipulates all the while retaining the actual ringing of the replicas of the seventeen 13th century Danilov Bells that hang in a tower in the campus of Harvard University.

Mixing and remixing the bell sounds with multiple virtual pianos, the resulting collage defies traditional concepts of harmony, melody and counterpoint, and creates in their place a sonic tapestry that brings Nadia Shpachenko’s The Poetry of Places to a jubilant ending.

This is the trailer for The Poetry of Places:

The CD is available from

Rafael de Acha


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