Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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ELIE SIEGMEISTER (1909-1991) Piano music - Vol. 2 Kenneth Boulton (piano)  rec Philadelphia 1995-1997 NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559021 [71.47]

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Sunday in Brooklyn (1946)
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1964)
Theme and Variations No. 1 (1932)
Piano Sonata No. 3 (1979)
From These Shores (198.5)

This is to much the same recipe as Vol. 1: One work (the first on the disc) approachable and having instant attractions; the rest is gently atonal but clearly the product of an avant-gardiste. It is no surprise to hear that, after his four years in Paris studying with Nadia Boulanger, he returned to the USA and found an affinity with Henry Cowell and Marc Blitzstein. His natural voice is as a pioneer pushing at and breaching the boundaries of tonality.

Sunday in Brooklyn represents the approachable voice. It has plenty in common with the American Sonata of two years previously. In Prospect Park Billy Mayerl meets Delius meets Gershwin. Here you can fully appreciate Boulton's deliciously relished light touch. This suite also accentuates the scatty and mixes it with the grand promenade and quite a few splashes of John Ireland (Amberley Wild Brooks). Siegmeister, the flaneur, predicts the main theme from Star Wars in Sunday Driver. The Family At Home drips slow-motion honey followed by the sentimentality of Children's Story. Coney Island rips and snorts along in Stravinskian railroad rhythms.

The second and third piano sonatas provide flanking for the Theme and Variations. The latter has already established (in the early thirties) the composer's voice as one that crosses the line of tonality and does so with abandon and hints of Caledonian highland dances. The single movement Second Sonata's shrapnel fragments of Beethoven 5 contrast with the three movement Third Sonata with its demented Schoenbergian dream - all broken mirrors and Ravelian impressionism.

The final five movement suite is a very late work. It has nothing in common with the Brooklyn piece. Whitman, Faulkner and Twain are among those 'pictured within'. The Twain movement is gawkily grotesque. The Thoreau sketch finds some easeful repose in holding an atonal mirror up to Macdowell's flower pieces and the woodland's noble savagery. The Langston Hughes movement is a restless portrait suggestive of Harlem while the final Faulkner essay skips and calls like an anteater on white hot coals.

Kenneth Boulton who also wrote the astute notes provides all the unruly liveliness and anarchic impressionism your heart could crave.

I find myself out of sympathy with most of this music apart from the Brooklyn suite. My star marking reflects my reaction accordingly. to all but the Brooklyn piece.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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