David Lang & Andrew Zolinsky, Lang: This Was Written By Hand

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 11.29.11 in Reviews

This is the first non-soundtrack album by post-minimalist Lang since the recording that included his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Little Match Girl Passion was released by Cantaloupe last year, and thusly, expectations are high. Are those expectations deliberately subverted with an album of old compositions (nothing here is newer than 2003) and only short pieces for solo piano?

Challenging us to relax longstanding ideas of what makes music good

Furthermore, many of the pieces here seem to run counter to the expectations of even listeners unfamiliar with Lang: There are deliberately clumsy-sounding rhythms, and intentional “wrong” notes abound. One might doubt pianist Andrew Zolinsky’s technical prowess if not for his flawless traversal of “Wiggle”; after hearing that dazzling display of digital dexterity, one must take seriously all the seemingly sloppy bits in the other tracks. It and the beautiful “Cello” are the closest to convention that Lang comes here. Without access to extramusical clues to why the music is constructed the way it is, This Was Written By Hand challenges us to relax longstanding ideas of what makes music good.