"The purpose of this collection is to showcase works
written during the recent past by American composers that charm and
delight." This is how Max Lifchitz introduces this attractive and enjoyable
programme of piano works by American composers of different generations
and musical horizons. The common denominator is that all these pieces
are predominantly colourful and tuneful, aiming at straightforward expression
and direct appeal. Needless to say that most composers here are completely
new to me.
Russell Woollen was ordained a Roman Catholic priest
in 1947 and left the priesthood in 1962 to concentrate on his musical
career as a performer and a composer. He studied in Harvard with Walter
Piston, as well as privately under Nadia Boulanger in Paris. This shows
in his music, at least in the two short pieces by which he is represented
here. Berceuse has a clear Gallic ring whereas Petit Rondo
displays some light jazzy touches. Delightful miniatures of great charm.
Irving Fine’s Diversions, which also
exists in orchestral guise, is a composite work assembled with pieces
written at different times and on various occasions. Little Toccata
(first movement) was composed in 1958 whereas Koko’s Lullaby
(third movement) was composed in 1959 for the composer’s Royal French
poodle. Flamingo Polka and The Red Queen’s Gavotte (respectively
second and fourth movements) were written in 1942 for a stage version
of Alice in Wonderland. Music such as this does not attempt plumbing
any great depth, but must be as much fun to play as it is to hear.
Harry Bulow studied, among others, with Aaron Copland,
Peter Mennin and Henri Lazaroff. His short Suite for Piano
dates from 1997 and was written on commission from the North Carolina
Music Teachers Association. Its three short, neatly characterised movements
(First Impressions, Quiet Elegance and Purposeful Play)
have an unmistakable jazz flavour and, in the final movement, a great
rhythmical verve. The slow central section of the third movement is
somewhat reminiscent of a theme from John Ireland’s Piano Concerto.
Some time ago, I
reviewed another N/S RECORDINGS release (Two by Three – N/S
R 1015) featuring two works by Nancy Bloomer Deussen. I then remarked
that her music was fairly traditional, tuneful and quite accessible,
sometimes calling Ireland or Moeran to mind. None the worse for that,
of course, since both are among my favourite composers as is Ravel whom
I also mentioned in passing. The three piano pieces featured here obviously
have much in common, in their seamless melodic flow and formal clarity.
Piano Prelude pays some homage to Chopin whereas Amber
Waves is an atmospheric miniature such as Ireland might have
written. Appropriately enough, Cascades is a brilliant
toccata of great verve.
Mark Alburger’s The Twelve Fingers is
a suite of twelve short movements, each piece adding one note and twelve
measures to the previous one. Thus, the piece opens "on F sharp in all
octaves" and goes on exploring various piano techniques and musical
styles with much imagination and a good deal of humour. The ninth movement
Improvisation is rather intriguing, in that "it takes a childish
approach to George Crumb" by creating an arresting sound world of often
mysterious harmonies. Eclectic, no doubt, but quite entertaining and
certainly not easy to play.
To sum up, no great masterpieces, here, but a hugely
attractive programme of enjoyable piano works, all superbly crafted
and played with obvious relish by Max Lifchitz. Well worth investigating.