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Petits Reves Bizarres XIII-XXIV (feat. Stephan Beneking)

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Customer Reviews

From MainlyPiano

"Petits Reves Bizarres #13-24 (Strange Little Dreams)" is the second half of a recent collaboration with Canadian composer/pianist Milana and Berlin composer Stephan Beneking, who wrote this music in 2011. Milana plays each of the pieces as written and then improvises, expanding these wonderful themes into stunning longer-form pieces. Classically-structured and melodic, this collection will be a treat for classical music buffs as well as new age and contemporary classical fans. Bottom line - this is simply great music without having to classify it. This is Milana’s fourth release this year - this one, the first half of the Beneking collaboration, an album of original piano solos called "Filling the Emptiness," and a vocal album of original songs called "Just Loved" - and so far all three piano albums are on my list of favorite albums for 2013.

Each original piece is one-three pages in length and it is interesting to note that Beneking does not include any tempo, dynamics or pedal markings in his sheet music, allowing each pianist to develop his or her own understanding of the work and making each interpretation a unique collaboration of composer and pianist.

The album begins with #13, a mysterious piece that reminds me of some of Mendelssohn’s darker Songs Without Words. #14 is a bit more akin to a Chopin prelude, and Milana’s improvisation is very fluid and dreamy. #16 has a simple but very lovely melody that Milana takes to lofty heights with her interpretation. #17 is dark, dramatic and very moody - one of my favorites. I also really like the gentle grace of #18 and the stately majesty of #19. The haunting #20 is my favorite on the album. The longest of the original pieces, at a total of six minutes it is also the longest of the improvisations, with plenty of time to evolve and explore the emotional impact of this powerful music. #21 is lighter and more fanciful while the poignant #22 aches with longing and possibly loss. The more up-tempo #24 brings this exceptional album to a stirring conclusion.

Milana is becoming one of my favorite artists, so if classical music with a contemporary flavor sounds appealing, be sure to check out "Petits Reves Bizarres #13-24" (and her other albums!)!!! Very highly recommended!

Petits Reves Bizarres XIII-XXIV (feat. Stephan Beneking)

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” - Arthur O'Shaughnessy

“Milana - Petits Reves Bizarres XIII – XXIV” (Released in Oct. 2013) is a collaboration between Stephan Beneking, a contemporary Romantic classical composer, and Milana Zilnik, a classically trained improvisational pianist. In English, this title means “Strange Little Dreams”, which perfectly labels this collection of 12 piano pieces.

In Ottawa, Ontario, I recently had a chance to meet with Milana Zilnik, the pianist, and her husband Arty. Arty designed, built, and operated the studio, where pieces were recorded. And this meeting gave me a rare insight into the development of these piano performances.

I also recently exchanged many e-mails with Stephan Beneking. And this provided me with a glimpse into his creative process, and his motivation for creating this album.

This project came to life when Arty Zilnik suggested that Milana apply her improvisational gift to Stephan’s “Petit Reves Bizarres No. 14” – which is one of the songs on this album. And after Arty recorded Milana’s performance, they sent the recording to Stephan, without really knowing how Stephan would react to having one of his classical compositions “altered”. But Stephan loved it - so much so that he suggested that he and Milana collaborate on a collection of similar works. “Milana – Petits Reves Bizarres XIII – XXIV” is the second album of this series.

The format for these collaborations was for Stephan to send Milana the beginning (roughly two minutes) of each song. Then, during recording, after Milana played the song through - once - as written, she would start improvising. And this protocol worked better than either the composer or the pianist could have possibly imagined!

The outcome of this collaboration is a collection of piano pieces that exhibit both structure, traditionally associated with classical music, and free form, more commonly associated with jazz. And it is a tribute to Milana’s great virtuosity that almost all of these pieces were recorded “in one take”.

Stephan Beneking, who lives in Berlin, Germany, focuses his creative talents on Romantic neo-classical music. He is a well known presence on Soundcloud, the website that offers a venue for composers, musicians, and people who just love music.

But some of the feedback that Stephan received was that some of his pieces were “too brief”. The time that Stephan has available for composing is limited, so he has focused on finishing more pieces, of shorter length. This has been a more realistic goal, and has made Stephan more prolific, than if he concentrated on longer works, possibly with multiple movements. So this collaboration with Milana gave Stephan a chance to “realize the best of both worlds”. He was able to stay within his normal composing modality, while achieving longer compositions by the addition of Milana’s improvisations.

The “dreamlike” feel of these pieces is compelling. And that is what makes music so special. As Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”.

However, one of the dream-enhancing techniques that I have identified is - just the right amount of reverb in the recording. This creates a “chamber like” sound, which provokes a feeling of mystery and altered reality. If there were any more reverb, then these pieces would begin to sound like the soundtrack of a science fiction movie. But if there were any less, then these songs would lose the extended sustain that makes all of the notes flow together in a magical way.

Many of these pieces are organized with the left hand playing arpeggios while the right hand plays the melodies, and drives the improvisations. And the end effect is a sound that exhibits both structure and freedom. And this mirrors the collaboration between Stephan’s structured compositions and Milana’s more spontaneous improvisations.

Stephan composed these pieces in a wide range of keys, to give each piece a different “flavor”. His favorite composing modalities are C minor and G minor. And some of the most powerful pieces on this album are in those keys.

XX – in C minor, is hauntingly beautiful. It has a wonderful moment when the left hand breaks free of its arpeggio mode, and combines with the right hand in and upward spiraling counterpoint that is breathtaking.

XV – also in C minor, exhibits the “Sturm und Drang” that is often associated with the Romantic Period. And this is enhanced by low “growl notes” that provoke a feeling of emotional upheaval. But this dark and heavy tone is balanced by a series of rapid fire quadruplets that lighten the mood. This also happens to be Stephan’s, Milana’s, and Arty’s favorite piece, which is an indication that extra effort was put into making this a master work.

XVII – in G minor (harmonic minor scale), is an example of how unique each of the pieces on this album are. The melody is presented in two note intervals, which give this piece a different timbre. It reminds me somewhat of medieval church music, where the two part melodies were often separated by fifths. No other piece on this album has a similar sound.

While I was listening to this album, one of nicest discoveries was that these pieces have enough complexity and depth to sustain many plays. Even after listening to this album 6 or 7 times, I was still discovering new and interesting passages. And to me, that is a sign of great music.

Petits Reves Bizarres XIII-XXIV (feat. Stephan Beneking), Milana
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