Lest anyone think Nils Frahm's got the market cornered with respect to Sonic Pieces' piano output, along comes Dustin O'Halloran to add his own fantastic voice to the conversation. Following upon solo piano albums by artists such as Peter Broderick (Docile) and Nils Frahm (The Bells, Wintermusik) , O'Halloran's Vorleben reveals him to be an unabashedly romantic composer, someone who fervently embraces melody and melancholy in equal measure in his introspective and ruminative compositions. Put simply, Schoenberg-styled atonalism is galaxies removed from the ten pieces collected on the live recording. O'Halloran's reputation precedes the Sonic Pieces collection: prior to Vorleben, he issued Piano Solos Volume 1 (2004) and Volume 2 (2006) on the English Bella Union label (apparently selections from them reappear on Vorleben), and composed the film music for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antionette and William Ollson's An American Affair.
In the opener “Opus 54,” his playing is equally dramatic and romantic, and in “Opus 7” poised and stately. He plays with a finely calibrated sense of time; tempos are modulated as the material dictates, with O'Halloran bringing an unhurried deliberation to each piece. The most emotive passages in “Prelude N 3” may remind some of Michael Nyman's The Piano; similarly, one might be reminded of Satie while listening to “Opus 23” but that the association exists doesn't lessen the poignant character of O'Halloran's original. “Opus 17” has all of the grace and delicacy of a long-lost Bach composition, not to mention melancholy beauty. That this is a live recording is most obviously evidenced at disc's end when applause appears, but ambient sounds creep in on occasion—coughing surfaces during “Opus 21” and the occasional creak of the instrument itself can be heard too (interestingly, Vorloben was recorded at the release party for The Bells in the Grunewald Church in Berlin where O'Halloran now lives). Such details hardly detract, however, from the overall beauty of the music.