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Richard HOWARD (b. 1946)
Prairie Visions - a suite for piano.
Richard Howard (piano)
rec. Zenph Studios, Raleigh, North Carolina, July 2006. DDD.
MSR CLASSICS MS1178 [62.51]


The information to support this release is rather cursory, but it is evident that composer/pianist Richard Howard is something of a polymath: a college biology professor and fencing coach in addition to being a semi-professional musician.

He is quoted as saying, "The seven pieces that make up the Prairie Visions suite are the result of 30 years of composition and refinement. The music is my homage to the Texas Great Plains, which I have called home all my life." Having never seen the Texas Great Plains myself, I can only assume that his aim in the compositions is to create sound vistas that evoke aspects of the landscape and its atmosphere. The movements have titles such as "Prairie Tempest", "Sunrise", "Haunted Mesa", "Galaxies of the Night", "Love Song of the Western Wind", "Dance of Fate" and "Sunset Refrain and Reverie". Taken as a whole the various movements could create a montage across a series of moods and times. The movements work when heard individually too, as there is next to no material that links them together.

The introductory note about Richard Howard also states that his "free nature led him to work in the Romantic Russian and French Impressionistic traditions". Indeed, the music does seem very improvised, relying more on repetition and slight variation within each movement than real thematic development. Any Russian or French influences are somewhat general and indirectly felt in this extended Texan sound landscape; certainly no specific composers are identifiable as having any meaningful impact. That could be something of a pity, as direct influences might have given Howard the composer a more individual voice. What we have though is a mixture of large gestures calculated to arrest and impact momentarily, but without long term significance, played off against dappled repeated sequences lending an air of space over a firmly fixed musical-landscape ground.

As a player Howard captures the grand sweep of his writing with ease and manages nuance adequately also. As with the composition, what I miss in his playing is the authority of his voice: that which makes you sit up and take notice. It could be the slight indistinctness that his fingering has at times, which can make forte passages a little overpowered especially given his tendency to use the sustain pedal as captured by the full bodied recording.

It is a pleasant enough disc, which Richard Howard sinks his heart into. For me, however, it is not especially memorable in terms of composition or playing, though others might feel differently.

Evan Dickerson


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