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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Leo ORNSTEIN (1892?-2002)
Piano Works: A Morning in the Woods, Danse Sauvage (Wild Menís Dance), Piano Sonata Number 4, Impressions of the Thames, Tarantelle, Piano Sonata Number 7, A Long Remembered Sorrow, Suicide in an Airplane.
Janice Weber, Piano
Recorded June 2-5, 2001, Toronto, Canada, [DDD]
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559104 [67:00]


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Leo Ornstein, was born in Ukraine around 1892 and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a youth. In 1907, fleeing persecution of the Jews, his family emigrated to New York. In the 1910s he burst upon the international music scene as a major keyboard talent. In a move that would foreshadow the actions of another great musical iconoclast (Glenn Gould), Ornstein abruptly left the concert stage in the mid-1920s, never again to perform in public. He dedicated the remainder of his career to composition and teaching, maintaining a music conservatory with his wife for many years.

Perhaps no other composer since Erik Satie was as eclectic as Leo Ornstein. There is no way to trace his development as a composer in the traditional way, as his style changed with the wind. One moment the music is harsh, dissonant and hyper-rhythmic. The next it is lyrical, expressive and romantic.

Once again, we owe Naxos a huge debt of gratitude for giving us a splendid sample of a unique composerís piano music, heretofore consigned only to obscure and expensive discs. I was most anxious to receive this recording when I read of its pending release, and I was certainly not disappointed.

Janice Weber has chosen a program that is beautiful in its contrasts. Ornstein was a complex writer; using a harmonic language that is reminiscent of Ravel in places, with free flowing rhythmic gestures and brilliant passage work. The two sonatas particularly moved me, tight in formal structure and formidable in their technical demands. The driving rhythmic patterns of Danse Sauvage are a stark contrast to the fluid Morning in the Woods that opens the program. Able to say much in a small space, Ornstein, like Schubert, is at times most eloquent in shorter forms. A Long Remembered Sorrow is beautifully poignant and Suicide in an Airplane is an incredibly depictive tone poem, worthy of favorable comparison to Debussyís Preludes.

Janice Weber is a pianist of considerable gifts. She brings this music to life with impeccable technique and loving sensitivity. She is a major talent, and I look forward to hearing her future projects.

This is a must-have for pianophiles. And what a great contribution to the repertory! This is a composer worthy of a place in the pantheon of greatness, and this is music that absolutely must be heard by a wider audience. I give this recording an unqualified recommendation, one that any lover of fine piano music and excellent piano playing will want to own. A winner on all sides, Naxos is to be praised again for their dedication to interesting music, quality performances and all at a fantastic price.

Kevin Sutton


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