Composer Karen LeFrak has just issued the first volume in a four-album project called Interlude, distributed by Naxos Music Group. The first album, Harmony, released March 5, 2021, consists of short solo piano pieces played by Jorn Swart performing under the name Doeke. Three more albums, entitled Inspiration, Gratitude, and Clarity, will follow later in 2021.
LeFrak is known for ballet scores and orchestral works, but she has cited composers whose music is “direct, like Erik Satie” as inspiration for the new project. The relative simplicity and easeful quality of these compositions do reflect that outlook. Indeed the initial major-seventh chord of the opening piece, entitled “Harmony,” may put one in mind immediately of Satie’s ever-popular Gymnopédies. But LeFrak’s new piano compositions are informed by wider traditions. That initial piece borrows chord changes from jazz and the Great American Songbook, and ends on a major chord but in a different key, giving it both a resolved and an unresolved aspect.
In contrast, the following piece, “Interlude,” feels like a lullaby. Decorated with grainy suspensions, it bears a childlike melody, which together with Doeke’s plaintive touch on the keys recalls Bill Evans in his “Waltz for Debby” mode.
“Quiet” evokes at least one pop song, though I can’t place the exact reference. “Repose” has gentle jazzy changes and a winding progression that surprises even as it soothes. The haunting “Peace” suggests how Sondheim might have written “Send in the Clowns” had he lived in Schubert’s time. “Unity” develops by building energy and hinting at tension under a graceful melody, while “Beauty” suggests Bartók’s piano pieces for children (my favorites as a young piano student).
The album closes with pieces titled “Serenity” and “Grace.” The first is an easeful minuet built on soft tone clusters and a simple melody, while “Grace” has the rounded shadows (and the grace) of a Chopin nocturne. Thus it completes the compact set with a suggestion that despite all the titles that evoke relaxation, there’s darkness present, and the story’s not over. And of course, it isn’t, since there are three more volumes of music to come in the Interlude project.
These pieces are crafted to produce a state of engaged relaxation. They’re the kind of music you can either let waft in the background as an aid to reaching just such a state, or listen to actively and appreciate the art. That’s a pretty neat trick.
Harmony is available at all major online retailers.