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William BLAND (b. 1947)
Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major (Four Goodbye Concert Rags) (2000) [28:54]
Air de Ballet – Andante moderato (1995) [3:33]
Nouveau Rag (1995) [4:23]
Pastorale (1993) [5:41]
Sonata No. 14 in B-flat Major (2003, rev. 2005) [33:03]
William Bland (piano)
rec. 7-9 September 2005, Kauffmann Astoria Studios, Astoria, NY.
BRIDGE 9223 [75:55]

Pianist and composer William Bland is at the time of this recording about two-thirds of the way through a projected cycle of twenty-four piano sonatas, one in each of the major and minor keys. The choice of using the major and minor tonalities is the result of the composer’s decision to move away from the free atonality prevalent in the music of the 1960s and 1970s. The result is music reliant on styles of the past, perfected by other composers and is only successful to a slight degree.

The opening piano sonata is a pastiche of styles ranging from Joplin’s classic rags to faux Rachmaninov to the new age meanderings of pianists like David Lanz and Jim Brickman. Although the work starts off well enough, there is nothing so fresh here that would make one want to eschew the originals. The watered-down Joplin and the abrupt and disjunctive shifts in style are jarring to the ear, and become quickly tiresome. Bland as a pianist favors a blurry, overly-pedaled sound, further causing a grate on the ear. Combine all of these quirks with the composer’s tendency to write only accompanied melodies - pleasant as they may be - and totally to ignore the inner voices and you have some very long and cumbersome pieces.

The three shorter works that split the two substantial sonatas are so reminiscent of new-age elevator music that one wonders how they got onto a label like Bridge and stayed shy of companies such as Narada or Windham Hill. While none of the works are in the least bit offensive, they are nondescript enough to be quickly forgettable.

I found the Sonata No. 14 to be a bit of an improvement over the first work, but again, the lack of formal structure, the tendency to note-spin and the random fits of right-hand-only virtuosity wore me down by the middle of the piece. These works seem to me to be throw-backs to the grandiose romantic music of the late nineteenth century. Sadly, there is nothing left in that idiom to say.

Kevin Sutton


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