Santiago Lanchares, “Dos Invenciones” (1997-99, CD by Ananda Sukarlan, 2005; score published 2006)

Lanchares (b. 1952) is a contemporary Spanish composer who has written a great deal for the piano. His work is often polyphonic, with a wide range of influences including Renaissance antiphonal techniques, modal scales, and non-Western rhythms, “accelerated to an almost supersonic degree” (as one reviewer says).

These are two-part inventions; Lanchares says they allude to Bach’s inventions, but their sources are elsewhere. (He has also said he attended classes by Messiaen, but as it often happens, Messiaen seems to have had no clear effect on his work.) The first piece owes something to Nancarrow, especially pieces like the “Two Canons for Ursula”; both have very long themes broken into asymmetric, syncopated fragments of a few notes each. The second piece is more a toccata on a single motif (it is called “sobre un motivo,” and the motif is four sixteenths followed by two quarter-note chords, the second delayed by a sixteenth). Over the course of the piece, the motif is crushed by continuous changes of meter; there are passages where the motif struggles to emerge over continuous sequences of sixteenth notes.

What is the history of twentieth century virtuoso two-part inventions for the piano? It would include, ultimately, the last six pieces in Mikrokosmos, Prokofiev’s amazing finale to the seventh piano sonata, John Adams’s “American Berserk,” the last movement of Stravinsky’s piano sonata, and a number of pieces by Nancarrow.  Anyone know any others? 

And what is the most interesting form of such pieces? One strategy is “supersonic” acceleration; another is wild leaps in pitch; both both seem more embellishments than genuine innovations. There’s a tremendous amount of inventiveness here, and the pieces are extremely carefully constructed. But to what end? Is the ideal form of a piece for Lanchares something like “Anandamanía,” his super-virtuoso toccata from 2002?

Both pieces are brilliant and very difficult to play. The recording by the Indonesian pianist Ananda Sukarlan is useful and sharply done, but he often disregards Lanchares’s dynamic markings (first invention, bars 148, 154, 159, 164). Lanchares is lucky to have the Barcelona publisher Tritó, which prints gorgeous editions of his work.