This new recording finds Adam Sherkin at a fascinating early point in his career as a composer. Sherkin trained first as a pianist, and the works on this CD of his solo piano compositions show him processing this experience. Having engaged the piano repertoire as broadly and comprehensively as one could ask of an artist of 29 years, classical piano music remains his central point of reference. Clearly evident are the influences of an entire gallery of European piano keyboard composers from the Baroque through the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Mozart and Haydn are overtly acknowledged in this recording (in the pieces called Amadeus A.D. and Daycurrents, respectively), but the presence of Bach, Liszt and Shostakovich are no less clearly felt at various points in the proceedings.
Influences aside, what do we perceive of Sherkin himself? It’s a fair question in this case, because his compositions must accommodate the performer’s own fulsome expressivity: the dynamic range of his playing is wide, tending to the forte; his articulation is crisp with a fondness for jabbing accents; his phrasing often features a late-Romantic emotionalism in its rubato, but can also — albeit less frequently — settle into a calmer metric momentum. And here is what is interesting about this portrait: as a composer, he is dealing with the conflicting attractions of self-expression on one hand, as in the solo piano music of Schoenberg or Scriabin for example, and a less subjective, more outward and “American” approach on the other, as in the music of John Adams, with whose solo piano music Sherkin is well acquainted. It is a typically 21st century creative quandary, and Adam Sherkin has taken up the struggle with energy and panache.