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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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William MASON (1829-1908)
Silver Spring Op. 6
Capriccio Fantastico Op. 50
Rêverie Poétique Op. 24
Improvisation Op. 51
Valse-Caprice Op. 17
Deux Humoresques de Bal Op. 23
La Sabotière; Danse aux Sabots Op. 33
Lullaby Op. 10
Badinage Op. 27 *
Caprice Grotesque Op. 22
Ballade et Barcarolle
Trois Préludes
Valse de Bravoure Op. 5
Kenneth Boulton (piano)
JoAnne Barry (piano) *
Rec. The Sonic Temple, Roslindale, MA February and May 2001 and January 2002

William Mason’s father Lowell was a notable figure in American church music and his nephew was Daniel Gregory Mason, both of whom have eclipsed William’s reputation. The trajectory of his career was the expected one; early precocity cemented by studies in Leipzig, Prague and Weimar and contact along the way with Moscheles and Liszt. Tiring of life as a travelling virtuoso pianist he settled instead for chamber music, teaching and composition. The violinist in Mason’s trio was Theodore Thomas and the trio gave, amongst other novelties, the American premiere of Brahms’ Op.8. Gradually though Mason’s fame as a performer was supplanted by his pedagogic material; his various books on technique had real currency.

Mason’s compositions reflect the barnstormer tradition exemplified by such as Thalberg. They are poetic and winsome or showy and virtuosic, something along the lines of William Wallace’s works. Some of the later works reflect a more obviously poetic palette but the Waltzes, Ballades and Improvisations all served their avowed purpose; entertainment and enjoyment, purposeful vivacity rather than elevated subtlety. Still there’s plenty merely to enjoy in that Thalberg-inspired cornucopia of figuration and filigree, Silver Spring, through the Chopin influenced Rêverie Poétique and on to the dance rhythms (an especial Mason forte) of the wry Valse-Caprice. Some of these do, it’s true, lack development; the Mazurka-Caprice is an example of a rather static imagination at work – but the Lullaby is delightful and Caprice Grotesque, to which the notes are too discreet to allude, is a tour de force variation on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I enjoyed the nostalgia of the Three Preludes even though the somewhat over resonant acoustic of The Sonic Temple doesn’t always work to their advantage, as I did the limpid if sectional affection of Amourette.

The salon pieces are well served by Kenneth Boulton who strikes the right note between display and intimacy and he’s joined by JoAnne Barry in the four handed Badinage. Naxos’ notes claim that the later Mason resembled less his earlier influences and more Brahms and Fauré but in truth his likeable and equable genre pieces recorded here show little if any of this kind of influence. He remained a miniaturist inspired by froth and sentiment and a likeable one at that.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Don Satz who strongly urges you to consider a disc that
just might be the perfect antidote to a stressful day; you can even grab a
partner and dance till dawn.

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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