Rzewski: 4 Pieces, Squares, 6 North American Ballads

Matthew Weissman (piano)

Catalog #: TROY1943
Release Date: September 1, 2023
Format: Digital

Frederic Rzewski is widely considered on of the most important and renowned American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Rzewski's musical ideas are bold, brash, and unapologetic and are inspired by deep social conscience. He is most often compared to Charles Ives for his pioneering spirit, free and complex counterpoint, and use of quotation; to Beethoven for his forward-thinking approach; and to Franz Liszt for his pianist virtuosity. Pianist Matthew Weissman performs several of Rzewski's piano compositions on this 2-CD set, including the complete North American Ballads. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, and Indiana University, Weissman is the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Los Angeles Liszt Competition and the Grieg International Competition. He has taught at four colleges/universities and the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts.


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Track Listing

Title Composer Performer
Four Piano Pieces Frederic Rzewski Matthew Weissman (piano)
Squares Frederic Rzewski Matthew Weissman (piano)
Piano Piece No. 4 Alternate Interpretation Frederic Rzewski Matthew Weissman (piano)
Complete North American Ballads Frederic Rzewski Matthew Weissman (piano)


  • Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021) looms large in the 20th Century piano repertory with his works' grandiose, Lisztian prowess, avant-garde eclecticism, and leftist political bent, often expressed with the interaction of high art with vernacular music. Though the Ballads are a hit with pianists, they are rarely recorded together – and when they are, it is usually only Nos. 1-4. In fact, I didn't know that the other two (5+6) even existed until now (they were composed later). This is the first time all 6 appear together. Each of the Ballads is a set of almost Ivesian free variations on a popular or folk song – often predictably leftist, including labor and protest songs. `Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues' (No. 4) is the most striking and popular of the original four – it depicts mill machines with thundering force, from which a blues tune slowly forms and emerges. The rarer No. 6, `The House- wife's Lament', takes a feminist stance to illuminate the toils of a housewife's daily life. In comparison to the other ballads, this one felt a bit straightforward and conventional, though still worth hearing. My disappointment with Ballad No. 5 notwithstanding, this is one I will probably keep. It's worth having the other ballads in one place, as well as a new recording of Squares (the only other one is by the composer). Weissman gives gutsy, colorful performances but doesn't quite match the control and mastery of Ralph van Raat in the Four Pieces (Naxos 559759, J/F 2015) and the composer in the others (Nonesuch 79623, N/D 2002). But I can't nitpick too much when these pieces are so thorny and demanding – Weissman is never less than convincing.

    – American Record Guide

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