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.