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American Virtuosa – Tribute to Maud Powell
Amy BEACH (1867-1944)
Romance Op.23 (1893) [7.31]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Molly on the Shore (1914) [3.15]
Antonín DVOŘÁK
Songs my mother sang (1880) [1.49]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Musette (from King Christian II) (1898) [1.45]
Mariona Eugenie BAUER (1882-1955)
Up the Ocklawaha Op.6 (1912) [5.30]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Minute Waltz Op.64 No.1 (1847) [2.00]
Carl VENTH (1860-1938)
Aria (1911) [5.05]
Selim PALMGREN (1878-1951)
May Night (1907) [2.14]
Samuel COLERIDGE TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Deep River Op.59 No.10 (1904) [4.46]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1840-1904)
Humoreske Op.101 No.7 (1894) [3.42]
H.P. DANKS (1834-1903)
Silver threads among the gold (Song) (1873) [3.06]
Hermann BELLSTEDT JR (1858-1926)
Caprice on Dixie for unaccompanied violin (1905) [3.41]
Henry Holden HUSS (1862-1953)
Romance (?1906) [5.19]
Harry Mathena GILBERT (1879-1964)
Marionettes (Scherzo) (1911) [3.00]
Cecil BURLEIGH (1885-1980)
Four Rocky Mountain Sketches Op.11 (1913) [9.56]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Twilight (1870-1872) [2.22]
Max LIEBLING (1845-1927)
Fantasia on Sousa Themes (1905) [7.46]
J Rosamond JOHNSON (1873-1954)
Nobody knows the trouble I see (1917) [4.43]
Rachel Barton Pine (violin)
Mathew Hagle (piano)
rec. WFMT, Chicago, USA, 3-5 October, 1 November 2006
CEDILLE RECORDS CDR 90000 097 [78.45]

This disc provides a generous quantity of 21 pieces, all of them either dedicated to or arranged by the great American violinist Maud Powell (1867-1920), a hugely significant figure in the history of music on that continent. Not to put too fine a point on it, Powell was single-handedly responsible for establishing the violin recital in North America, in many ways as pioneering a person as those who were striking out west in the spirit of exploration for whatever motive. It clearly ran in the family for her uncle explored the Grand Canyon, headed the US Geological Survey and Bureau of Ethnology, and founded the National Geographic Society. She was clearly a formidable violinist with a huge repertoire, capable of entertaining and communicating at the highest level while in no way reluctant to let her hair down with arrangements of Dixie and the like as encores. One can understand the review which wrote of her ‘most intimate and personal appeal to her audience’ from the stylish mix and wide-ranging emotional levels in the music on this CD. Her biographer, Karen A Shaffer - president and founder of the Maud Powell Society for Music and Education and whose comprehensive, masterly book Maud Powell, Pioneer American Violinist is highly recommended by this reviewer - has written detailed yet highly readable booklet notes, while Naxos have issued her complete recordings on four CDs, so Powell is getting the exposure she is long overdue. Powell dedicated herself to performing music by American composers and rejected criticism for so doing because ‘American artists owe it to their country to play the best examples of American music. How can we expect to have any national music if someone does not play these works in public?’ She went on to point out that foreign musicians had no intent other than to take money out of America. ‘They have not served us vitally, they are not in sympathy with our institutions, and they rarely play works by American composers, so I must try to do what I can for American music’. 

While many of the usual suspects on this disc are to be found among composers featured in recitals of Powell’s day such as Chopin, Dvořák, Sibelius, or Massenet, it also provides new encounters with some American composers and arrangers from the last decades of the 19th century through to the end of the First World War. Amy Beach - as pioneering a woman composer as Powell was for women violinists - may already be familiar but less so is the long-lived Cecil Burleigh, a composer and violinist who studied in Berlin and later with Ernest Bloch and Leopold Auer, before joining the teaching staff of the University of Wisconsin – Naxos have a recital of his music on 8.559061. Herman Bellstedt Jr., a cornet virtuoso in John Philip Sousa's band, turned the minstrel song from the Civil War (Dixie) into a formidable solo violin showpiece for Powell, worthy, as she herself stated, of the great violin virtuoso Paganini. The strangely named Hart Pease Danks - one can see why initials HP were preferred - takes the more sentimental path, while Romances are provided by the German-born but Texas-based violinist, conductor and composer Carl Venth, and Henry Holden Huss (founder of the American Guild of Organists). Max Liebling typifies the patriotic fervour prevalent at the turn of the 20th century with his Fantasia on Sousa themes, ending predictably - and why not? - with a stirring excerpt from The Stars and Stripes forever. Powell played it as an encore with Sousa’s band on a tour to Britain in 1905. One of the most striking works is by the woman composer Marion Bauer. It is an evocative tone picture of a journey undertaken by Powell and subsequently described by her to the composer, who promptly came up with a work which staggered Powell by its pictorial accuracy, as if the composer had been there too. Of huge significance was Powell’s deliberate decision to cross the colour barrier by including African-American spirituals in her recital programmes. One such spiritual, Deep River, which Powell heard in a piano transcription by Coleridge Taylor, so inspired her that she decided to create her own. J(ohn) Rosamond Johnson - not, as the booklet states, James, who was John’s brother James Weldon Johnson - was a black composer and singer, responsible for editing four important collections of spirituals and folksongs. He urged Powell to arrange Nobody knows the trouble I see, which she did and played at a benefit concert for his New York School Settlement for Coloured People in the autumn of 1919. A year later she died of a heart attack on stage in St Louis, playing this very piece, a moving self-epitaph. 

Rachel Barton Pine is admirably accompanied – and where required sounding truly orchestral - by Matthew Hagle. Pine sets out her stall with fine playing, commanding technical skill and stylish phrasing. One cannot but fail to regard her and Karen Shaffer as a modern-day pioneer à la Powell. Without going too far into the realms of sentimentality - a little may be vital, but too much puts one immediately in the land of parody - her warmth of tone, impish humour (there are some charming scherzi to enjoy) and fiery passion, keep this long but highly enjoyable recital on the move. I had anticipated dipping in to this disc, but found, like reading any truly good book, I could not put it down or, in listening terms, switch it off.

Christopher Fifield



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