Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk calls his work “continuous music”, and it’s easy to see why: with so many notes in such short spaces, one hears a flow into chords that borders on drone. It’s entirely possible that Windmills contains more single notes than any other album on the market. This is the unique appeal of Melnyk, topped only by his attention to detail. He doesn’t just play the piano quickly, or thickly, he plays extraordinarily well, and possesses a sound that is entirely his own.
After being “discovered” after decades in the industry (o sweet fate!), the composer has finally earned the attention he has always deserved. As his first major work of the 21st century, Windmills bears the weight of enormous expectation, and smashes it to pieces. This is a beauty to listen to: flourishes of notes, cascading like waterfalls, swirling like snow. The bonus is that this work is an homage to a prior masterpiece: Walt Disney’s Academy Award winning short film “The Old Mill”. That nine-minute work, scored by Leigh Harline, is a demonstration of animation and scoring at their best; without a single word, the film creates and sustains a mood of anticipation. Although (or perhaps because) this is Disney, one is unsure of the fates of his avian and animal characters. In the first movement, they are seen in their natural settings, gathered around the old mill. The second is playful, a bullfrog and cricket and firefly chorus providing light distraction. The storm arrives in the third, casting all outcomes into doubt; and the fourth portrays the aftermath.
That chorus of creatures finds its echo in Melnyk, whose notes and tones arrive swiftly and fill every available nook. At times it seems as if a horde of pianos is playing in a crowded room, until one realizes that the sustain pedal is working overtime. With 62 minutes to play with, the composer is free to investigate the aural colors of the initial score without being tied to its specific notes. Echoes of Harline’s work can be intuited, and by extension, echoes of Strauss, whose piece “One Day When We Were Young” was incorporated into the original score. And yet the new score is distinctly Melnyk’s, a vast exploration of premonition and play, catastrophe and recovery. When the bright chords turn to dark and back again, the listener is transported, as if experiencing a storm of their own. This is Melnyk’s intention; as the liner notes describe, his windmill is “meant to represent a human being, facing so many hardships and trials.” But in the end, we are also being “reminded of the beauties of life, and to be grateful to God for all we have”. The spirit of the listener rises and falls on these ladders of notes, a stairway to heaven, a shelter from the storm. (Richard Allen)
Available here (sound samples included)