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Benjamin LEES (b.1924)
Piano Music: 1945-2005

Toccata (1947) [2:16]
Ornamental Etudes 1-6 (1957) [16:19]
Three Preludes (1962) [9:27]
Sonata Breve (1956) [12:57]
Odyssey: Nos. 1-3 (1971, 1986, 2005) [30:39]
Mirian Conti (piano)
rec. 6-8 November 2006, Estudios Cosentino, Buenios Aires, Argentina. DDD
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0069 [71:39]

Experience Classicsonline


Lees was born in Manchuria but his family moved to San Francisco when he was only eighteen months old. He became an American citizen in 1931. His teachers included Halsey Stevens, Ingolf Dahl and George Antheil. There are five symphonies, the Fourth of which, Memorial Candles, is on Naxos. Lees has written many other works including a slew of concertos. I should mention the ones for horn and violin. His Third Piano Concerto was recently premiered by Ian Hobson in Florida. Hobson has also recorded his Fourth Piano Sonata and Second Piano Concerto on Albany.

Lees' Toccata inhabits a world of dissonant angularity parallel with that of the Ramey works also on Toccata - a sort of feral pianola effect. The Six Ornamental Etudes are more varied in effect than the Ramey sequences. From that viewpoint Lees's imaginative palette is more capacious. The first of the Three Preludes is an essay in grand swirling defiance. The second is sombre with a discordant filigree for the right hand. The third has the all the pell-mell pianola torque of the Toccata on the first track. The single movement Sonata Breve is serious and dark-browed. There is an element of fantasy here but always tempered by danger. The three movements of Odyssey are respectively from 1971, 1986 and 2005. The first was written for John Ogdon and is angular in a way that often suggests Shostakovich. The second Odyssey movement is full of brooding and discordant outbursts and purposeful surly energy. This is also felt in a few jazzy passages along the way. It was commissioned by the US Information Agency. The final Odyssey is the most recent and has the feel of a journey into a threatening and fantastic land with vistas of unearthly beauty along the way. For all its angularity and occasional dissonance this is a fascinating piece of mercurial mood-swings and descriptive Lisztian power. Mention of Ogdon earlier on reminds me that the torrential power of some of Lees' writing as represented on this disc might almost have been cousins to the Ogdon-propelled Mennin Piano Concerto once recorded on CRI.

Toccata issued its second Ramey volume in the same month as this Benjamin Lees recital.

Lees engages a dark and fantastic imagination.

Rob Barnett

 

 

 

 


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