Small studied at the San Francisco Conservatory
and at Carnegie-Mellon University. He
also took piano studies with, inter
alia, Leon Fleisher and composition
with Vincent Persichetti. Born in 1948,
he frequently performs his own music
and also that of Bach. He was a semi-finalist
in the Bach International Piano Competition.
As he explains in his note it’s not
conceit that leads him to bracket his
performance of the Goldberg Variations
with his own 25 Preludes, but rather
that he patterned the Preludes after
the Goldbergs; using block chords that
journey through the major and minor
keys. Additionally they are cyclical
and fit into patterns. This of course
sounds cerebral and unyielding; a schematic
approach that might assign each "set"
an impenetrable sense of mechanics or
Not true, however,
in practice. As with the Goldberg Variations,
Small has ensured that the disc is tracked
to reflect the structural blocks. His
style is certainly eclectic. I hear
the influence of impressionism in the
first prelude; there is pawky humour
in the second, a 1930s vamp (with witty
sign-off figure) permeates No.4. He
inflects the cantabile of No.5 with
nightclub piano bar insouciance – demotic
and noble in close proximity – but summons
up Mussorgskian chordal granite when
required. He is hypnotic in No.8 and
isn’t that the ghostly skeleton of John
Brown’s Body in No.12? I enjoyed his
fractious, nasty and argumentative fugue
and the big contrasts he sets up between
attacca and lyrical moments.
Interestingly he apparently only noticed
the Reveille theme later; it’s there
all right, and seems to make a transformed
reappearance at the end, though he doesn’t
mention this. He covers bluesy show
tunes, touches of Shostakovich, a Funeral
March, song-like moments and, in the
end, a searching, questing intimacy.
The work is dedicated to the composer’s
father who died during the year the
Preludes were written.
No room, obviously,
for many repeats in the Goldberg Variations.
It’s a warm performance, with a tripping,
semi-staccato harpsichord touch in the
Aria and some playful voicings. Five
is rather soft-grained and not all the
lines are brought out with immediacy
elsewhere. I liked however the pomposo
start to 16 and the affectionate realisation
of the slower variations.
The recorded sound
is good, the composer-performer acquitting
himself with panache in his own work
and paying apposite homage in the Bach.
An interesting compositional voice –
steeped in impressionism, show tunes
and the gaudy traffic of after hours
– a good brew.