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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

North/South recordings

DIVERSIONS
Russell WOOLLEN (1923 – 1994)

Berceuse et Petit Rondo (1993)
Irving FINE (1914 – 1962)

Diversions (1942, 1958, 1959)
Harry BULOW (born 1952)

Suite for Piano (1997)
Nancy BLOOMER DEUSSEN (born 1938)

Piano prelude (1988)
Amber Waves (1966)
Cascades (1988)
Mark ALBURGER (born 1957)

The Twelve Fingers (1978)
Max Lifchitz (piano)
Recorded: University at Albany’s Main Theatre, August 1998
NORTH/SOUTH RECORDINGS R 1026 [66:22]

 

"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.

Hubert Culot

 



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