When Timo Andres made his debut full-length recording for Nonesuch in 2009, with the two-piano set Shy and Mighty, most of the talk focused on how it seemed to announce a genuine young composer of interest. Less mentioned was Andres’s own monstrous technique, yet Andres is not so much a great composer with sufficient piano skills as a pure double threat. That’s going to be harder to ignore, starting with Home Stretch: For this follow-up, Andres has taken on Mozart’s “Coronation” piano concerto, along with a few new compositions of his own. Well: Make that one brand-new composition, and two halvsies.
For example, Andres’s “Coronation” is a “co-composition,” which takes the infamously unfinished left-hand piano part of Wolfgang’s and completes it with a 21st-century American, post-minimalist flair. Andres humbly calls his rumbling additions (mostly found in the left-hand part) a “bastardization” of the Mozart style, but more often than not, his crunchy dissonances and harmonic detours bear some relationship to the master’s roadmap. And the performance, undertaken with the Metropolis ensemble, has a flowing, unified feel. It’s the rare “based on” item that feels impishly creative while remaining sufficiently reverent.
The other two “originals” on this program are strong, too. “Home Stretch,” though it shows up on this album as one long track, is a piano concerto in three movements that’s worth its deliberate pacing. And “Paraphrase on Themes of Brian Eno” works as a counterpart to Andres’s “completed” Mozart concert. Once again, Andres’s touch steers clear of basking in easy familiarity; his final setting of the Eno song “By This River” is recognizable, but hardly derivative.
The only thing working against this album-as-an-album is that it perhaps doesn’t “flow” in an ideal way; you might be better served by taking each of these divergently structured pieces separately, at different sittings. But, as jaded recital audiences in New York have found whenever the pianist stuns both with his own pieces as well as with repertoire as familiar as Schumann and Chopin, it may only be because Andres is an artist with more talents than a single album’s sequencing can contain.