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Benjamin LEES (b.1924)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1955) [26.06]
Ernest GOLD (b.1921)
Piano Concerto (1943) [27.05]
Joseph Bloch (piano) (Lees)
Marisa Regules (piano) (Gold)
National Orchestral Association/John Barnett (Lees); Leon Barzin (Gold)
rec. 30 Oct 1963 from collection of Paul A Snook (Lees); 8 Jan 1945 from collection of Miklos Pogonyi (Gold) ADD
PIERIAN PIR 0010 [53.11]
Kent KENNAN (1913-2003)
Chamber music
Sonata for violin and piano "Sea sonata" (1937) [23:25]
Night soliloquy for flute and piano (1936) [4:36]
Scherzo, aria and fugato for oboe and piano (1949) [9:18]
Threnody: for violin and piano (1992) [4:08]
Quintet for piano and strings (1935) [15:10]
Richard Kilmer (Sonata); Adriana Hulscher (Threnody, Quintet); Jennifer Bourianoff (Quintet) (violins); Felicity Coltman (piano); Megan Meisenbach (flute); Kathleen Turner (oboe); Ames Asbell (viola); Margaret Coltman-Smith (cello)
rec. studios of KMFA-FM, Austin, Texas
PIERIAN PIR 0017 [52:29]
Nikolai LOPATNIKOFF (1903-1976)
Concerto for Violin, Op. 26 (1941) [22:13]
Joseph Fuchs (violin)
National Orchestral Association/John Barnett
Symphony no 3, Op. 35 (1953-54) [30:16]
National Orchestral Association/Leon Barzin
rec. 12 March 1945; 26 January 1960. ADD
PIERIAN PIR 0023 [52:29]
Experience Classicsonline

Much that is on Pierian concerns itself with vintage pianists and the player-piano. There’s also a significant number of discs of recordings by the pianist Barbara Nissman. I hope that Jonathan Woolf will be covering those aspects before too long.
My interest in the label springs from the above three discs. I am rather regretful that Pierian have not issued more along these lines.
Let’s look at the Gold/Lees disc first.
This is an extremely well presented disc the existence of which is owed to two collectors: Paul Snook and Miklos Pogonyi. The recording is also sponsored by The Aaron Copland Fund for Music.
Lees is a fascinating composer. His piano concerto, written in Vienna, is poundingly insistent, smashingly hammered in the outer movements. It’s also romantic but not in any slushy manner as we can hear from the middle movement, adagio maestoso. Joseph Bloch is impressively controlled and articulates music that often combines detailed patterning and a thunderous blast. Shostakovich, Mennin and Prokofiev are reference points with a hint of Bartókian middle-Europe in the first movement. The concerto was premiered by Charles A Adler with the Vienna Symphony. The soloist then was Alexander Jenner. The present recording includes enthusiastic applause.
Vienna-born Gold is best known for his Oscar winning Exodus score (1961). He also wrote concert music including this concerto. It was slated when premiered. The sound is not as good as on the Lees being rather pinched. Under forte pressure it tends to crumble. Still it sounds healthy enough and moderately tolerant ears, used to historic excursions, will find it no hardship. The style in the first movement is intensely emotional, incessantly swirling, warmly chiming and active. It stands somewhere between the concertos of Poulenc and Rachmaninov. Regules seems completely at ease with the idiom. The work fairly flies along and the mélange of jazzy insouciance - Gershwin winks out at 6.48 in the finale - and the lush swooning of the finale is highly appealing if you have a sweet tooth. There are some unblushingly Hollywoodian moments but then you find them in Malcolm Arnold also!
Both recordings are mono and although the Lees is miraculously clean and strong-sounding there are understandable limitations of frequency response. The Lees came from a 7½ inch per second off-air reel while the Gold is from a cassette tape dubbing from acetates.
Encouragingly this CD is labelled 'National Orchestral Association Volume One'.
Kennan was born in Milwaukee and after starting studies in architecture switched to music eventually moving to Howard Hanson's Eastman School. His 1936 Symphony - which I would dearly love to hear - secured a Prix de Rome. He became a longstanding member of the academic faculty of the University of Texas.
The Violin Sonata dates from 1937 and was written at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French coast. Termed the Sea Sonata it has something of Szymanowski's headiness and there’s a dark presence amid the trembling and fiery passion. You hear this also in the dense romance and diablerie of Bax's Second Sonata, Winter Waters and The Devil that Tempted St Anthony. That element is never far away, not even in the gentler reaches of the Lento. This has its own compromised and clouded peace - never completely at rest - always with that undercurrent of striving and even of threat. Across three substantial movements Kennan might have over-egged the intensity but it's certainly a work of unequivocal character. It is powerfully put across by Richard Kilmer and Valerie Coltman. Coltman is common to the performing teams for each of these works.
The Night Soliloquy is his most famous piece having been recorded in its orchestral clothing by Hanson for Mercury. It's a gentle yet cloud-hung and mysterious nocturne. Its atmosphere can be compared with the atmospheric preludes of Samuel Barber's orchestral Essays but shorn of those convulsive rhetorical climaxes.
The Scherzo, Aria and Fugato has been performed by John de Lancie - one of those “Fabulous Philadelphians” and forever associated with Francaix’s carefree Horloge de Flore. It is a gracious singing work and by 1949 was purged of the darkling intimations of the Sea Sonata. It is akin to the writing of Francaix, Ibert and Piston but very forthright in its melodic material. It is heard in its 1992 revision.
The little 1992 Threnody for violin and piano is a dirge but a passionate dirge masterly in its concision across 4:08 (the insert is wrong).
The Piano Quintet is another work of the mid-1930s and shares the romantic immersion of the Sonata and Night-Piece. Although Karl Miller's notes mention the influence of Franck and Brahms this stirringly intricate, tender, ecstatic and surging romance for me recalls the first Piano Quartet of Fauré, the string quartets by Bonnal and the Chausson Concert. Intensity makes way for élan in the last movement. This is a superb work which I urge you to hear.
Nicolai Lopatnikoff was born in Tallinn, Estonia and died in Pittsburgh. He studied in St Petersburg (1914-17) moving away from the bow-wave of the Revolution, first to Finland and then to Germany where he studied with Ernst Toch. Nazism forced flight from Germany to London in 1933. emigrating to New York in 1939. The remainder of his long career was pursued at Hartt College, Westchester Conservatory and Carnegie-Mellon University.
His First Symphony was premiered by the Berlin Phil conducted by Bruno Walter. It had it USA premiere in 1931 by the Detroit Symphony conducted by Ossip Gabrilowitsch. The Second Symphony saw light of day in 1939 in Boston under Koussevitsky who later conducted the first performance of the Violin Concerto with Richard Burgin. Lopatnikoff’s well-fashioned works were taken up by the conductor, soloist and orchestral elite of the day but had slipped into darkness before his death in 1976.
The works heard here are in recordings from 1945 and 1960. His compact 23 minute Violin Concerto is in a flood of song. It’s in the manner of the Walton concerto with just a shade more reserve. The redoubtable Joseph Fuchs (1903-1997) sings up to the flood. The recording is from a live concert so there is the occasional cough to contend with and a good sustained burst of applause at the end. I am not sure I would agree that this is a terribly neo-classical piece. It has a more romantic flame to which the Brussels-born conductor Leon Barzin plays up.
The Third Symphony is conducted by John Barnett (b.1917) in its New York premiere. A clamant Allegro deciso speaks of striving and conflict redolent of 1940s Rawsthorne. After an Andante in which Barber meets Finzi we come to the ruthlessly propulsive Allegro molto - not so much Allegro in this case as Energico feroce.
So there you have it. In overview: Lees – a valuable addition to the discography; Gold – skilled and populist; Lopatnikoff - Waltonian romantic and 1940s conflict but dating from the 1950s. Fascinating repertoire. As for Kennan he is revealed as a major romantic voice - more please, especially that Symphony.
Rob Barnett


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