The playing of the immensely talented pianist Nadia Shpachenko is quite familiar to me from her previous recording The Poetry of Places, for Reference Recordings. So are the works of the indispensable American composer Lewis Spratlan, including his exquisite operatic setting of Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s Life is a Dream.

Surprise was not among my reactions to the vividly titled Invasion, which gives its title to this extraordinary album of works for the piano featuring the protean Ukrainian-born, adoptive American pianist, Nadia Shpachenko bringing to vivid life a suite, six rags, and two sonatas by Lewis Spratlan.

Composed for Shpachenko during the 2022 war with Russia as she watched her home city of Kharkiv and her beloved Ukraine and its people decimated day after day in a brutal, senseless war, our pianist found in music both consolation and an escape valve for pent up sorrow and anger.

In addition to performing fundraising concerts featuring music by Ukrainian composers, Shpachenko and friend and collaborator Lewis Spratlan created this recording to support Ukraine by way of humanitarian aid.

Reference Recordings is releasing this album, with 100% of its proceeds benefitting the Ukrainian people affected by the war. Ukrainian artists have created artworks to be included in the album booklet, online, in art galleries, and in music videos. Also featured are artworks made by the children of Kharkiv, as their responses to the war.

Invasion, the key piece on the album, is composer Lewis Spratlan’s response to the Russia- Ukraine war. An emotionally charged, boldly dissonant, intensely descriptive composition for piano, alto saxophone, horn, trombone, timpani, snare drum, and mandolin, Invasion compactly conveys in its ten minutes of anguished music its author’s visceral response to the horrors of war.

All brief, all diverse in tone, all skirting tonality, the remaining nine works are nevertheless easy on the ear, often surprisingly melodic or yet brashly, almost sardonically dissonant, or else ironic on occasion as when a meditatively sober piece breaks into a little waltz or when, in another instance or two, echoes of Scott Joplin surreptitiously at first, then hard-headedly interrupt bucolic reflections on nature.

Lewis Spratlan has the time of his life poking good-natured fun – it appears – now at Debussy, now at Mussorgsky, all the while celebrating the natural wonders of Mahoosuc Notch and Goose Eye Mountain, both in Maine, Speck Pond in Florida, Mount Greylock and Chesterfield Gorge in Massachusetts, and Virginia’s Pelhalm Lake

When the composer stops the musical satire and the bucolic reflections, as in the bluntly harrowing opening Invasion or as in the closing Wonderer, we hear the impassioned Spratlan, utterly familiar with and fully able to put into music the sounds of tragedy.

Elsewhere Spratlan expresses the vicissitudes of a hero’s journey through life in the form of a fantasy not far in form and intent from that of its Romantic predecessor, except that Spratlan’s fantasy of a wondering wanderer has its hero momentarily lapsing out of his or her misery when sweet melodic snippets from the past come calling offering succor and comfort.

Listening to this music I was reminded of works similar in intent by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, to name but two composers, who neither celebrating, nor condemning, turned compositions inspired by the horrors of war into art. Gratitude is due to Lewis Spratlan and to Nadia Shpachenko, soulmates against man’s inhumanity to man.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

Rafael de Acha © 2022

Rafael de Acha has enjoyed a distinguished career in the arts as a performer, stage director, producer, and educator. He was born and grew up in Cuba. At the age of 17 he moved to the United States to study Drama at the University of Minnesota, and later Languages at L.A. City College, Music at the Juilliard School of Music, at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, and at the New England Conservatory of Music, from which he received the Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. He has taught courses on the History of Music at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and at Florida International University, and contributed writings to Seen and Heard International and to this blog. He co-founded with his wife the award-winning New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, where he produced and staged twenty seasons of classical and contemporary theater, including fifty world premieres of plays that went on to have international and national productions on and off Broadway, including Ana in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz (Pulitzer Prize for Drama 2002 and Tony Nomination 2003.) In 2006 he and his wife, Kimberly were presented with a citation from The Dade County Cultural Affairs Council for “trailblazing contributions to the arts in South Florida.

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