and Griffes are only companions in the sense that they are both
American composers born in the nineteenth century. Their music
subsists in contrast rather than in similarity.
Macdowell piano solo production comprises four sonatas and a myriad
pleasingly personable water-colour nature pictures. The latter
are salon and piano stool Schumann rather than anything terribly
volatile or commanding. His orchestral tone poems are made of
sterner stuff. He died, demented, in 1908.
is a tragic figure. While Macdowell died at the age of 48 Griffes
only survived to 36. His small legacy tends towards the Gallic-Slav
stream in American music (Farwell, Loeffler, Coerne and Burlinghame
Hill) and is highly original. The Pleasure Dome and The
White Peacock are fantastic, impressionistic and fruitily
spiced works for orchestra. The Piano Sonata is a work to stand
with the Liszt and Ferguson sonatas.
pianist juxtaposing the piano works of these two composers needs
to be as adept with the impressionistic hesitation and lambent
suggestion of Griffes as with the Germanic romanticism and drama
was in good form when this cycle was set down. Having lived with
this set for more than two years I would favour this set over
the Phoenix set by Alan Mandel. You are more likely to come across
Barbagallo in his incomplete survey of the sonatas (3 and 4 only)
on the very extensive Naxos American Classics Macdowell series.
Tocco is recorded in fearlessly close proximity and Gasparo deserve
credit for giving us what I take to be Tocco's full dynamic range.
pieces include a Rachmaninovian Rhapsody and the drizzling
winter waters of Notturno, the Bartók-style zithering
of the Scherzo of the Op. 6. The Pleasure Dome started
life as a piano piece although it is likely to be better known
these days amongst CD collectors in its orchestral garb (either
Charles Gerhardt on Chesky or Ozawa on New World). Its fragrantly
suggestive power focused on Taylor Coleridge's drug-induced poem
and must surely have fuelled Arthur Farwell's Vathek or
Burlingame Hill's Prelude. It certainly belongs in the
Oriental exotica category more closely attuned to the French school
than to the Germanic although Humperdinck wrote an excellent Oriental
Rhapsody. Here Tocco is not quite the magus necessary to lift
the piece from the page and leave it floating in a suggestive
haze. This really needs a Gieseking, a Garvelmann (witness his
recording of the Sorabji transcriptions on Bis), or an Earl Wild.
Tocco's Griffes lacks the out and out hum and blur of impressionism.
The recordings are not the last word and in this connection the
New World recordings by Denver Oldham are preferred as are the
two Griffes volumes of Michael Lewin on Marco Polo and Naxos.
Tocco. Tocco is by no means poor it is simply that his strengths
lie in the imperious heroics and romanticism of Macdowell rather
than the Pierrot world of Griffes.
concise (between 20 and 25 minutes each) Macdowell sonatas have
been compared by Colin Scott-Sutherland with the much later and
equally concise four Bax sonatas written during the three decades
after that in which Macdowell wrote his four. The titles have
a strongly Baxian flavour but the idiom is different - Schumann
into Rachmaninov but with a convincingly superheated romantic
volatility alternating with lambent reflection and macabre prestidigitation
as in the troll-dance of the Eroica. There is nevertheless
something about these four sonatas that places the music with
the mid-nineteenth century landscapes of the American wilderness.
Macdowell is to Griffes what Parry and Stanford are to Baines
brings a pesante quality to the first movement of the Keltic
and the Largo of the Tragica which is his last
piano sonata. It is a work of resolute power - rather Grieg-like
and not shying from the gentler muses as in the 'with naive tenderness'
movement even if the shafts of sunlight are sometimes interrupted
by hints of some troll-fate. It is dedicated, as is the Third
Sonata Norse, to Grieg and is inspired by Celtic legends
in the epics of the Cycle of the Red Branch. This is the most
convincing of the four sonatas.
recordings were originally made in the early 1980s during the
twilight of the LP era and as the timings indicate moved across
direct to silver disc. The four CDs were initially issued by Gasparo
as GSCD-231, 232, 233 and 234. They were issued in this boxed
form in 1995 and as a set have received scant attention.
is not the first time that the two composers have been yoked together.
In circa 1971 Clive Lythgoe recorded the Griffes Sonata with the
Macdowell Eroica and Robert Nathaniel Dett's suite In
the Bottoms for a Philips LP (never reissued on CD). Tocco
catches the shattering cut-glass quality of the Sonata - a work
described by Virgil Thomson as 'shockingly original'. Written
during the last two years of the Great War its explosive outer
movements betray a familiarity with the work of wild men such
as Ornstein and Cowell.
Rhapsody and the orchestral version of The Pleasure
Dome of Kubla Khan (which Gasparo persist in spelling Kahn)
are first recordings.
this is an instantly appealing package offered at an attractive
price. The Macdowell sonatas, the earlier more Germanic Griffes
works and Griffes own Sonata come up extremely well. The Macdowells
are still market leaders. However the trademark exotica of Griffes
require a more subtly imaginative approach in which humid suggestion
and diaphanous impression replace sharply focused drama and heroism.
brings explosive volatility to the Lisztian bravura of the Macdowell
works but is not quite as successful with the elusive Griffes
pieces. An extremely useful survey of a substantial selection
from the piano music of these composers. Much here to challenge
assumptions especially in the Macdowell sonatas.
good notes by Allan Kozinn and a very forward recording from producer
entire Gasparo Catalogue may now be
purchased through MusicWeb