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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Touch: The Toccata Project -Vol. 1 American Composers
see end of review for track listing
Philip Amalong (piano)
No recording details given.
ALBANY TROY1142 [57:00]

Experience Classicsonline

The toccata notoriously eludes exact definition - perhaps one should regard it as a gesture towards a certain kind of keyboard music rather than, strictly speaking, a term. As John Caldwell observes in Grove, “The toccata principle is found in many works not so called, and a large number of pieces labelled ‘toccata’ incorporate other more rigorous styles (such as fugue) or forms (such as sonata form)”. In introducing what is designated Volume 1 of a series devoted to Post-1900 Piano Toccatas, the nearest Philip Amalong comes to definition is to write that “Toccatas, or ‘touch pieces’ are percussive and motoric, splashy and fleeting”. A toccata is all momentum and spinning motion”. This evokes the essence of the toccata very well. Conceiving of it in such terms Amalong suggests that it is “not surprising that toccatas returned to fashion in the 20th century as the machine age evolved into the technological age at an ever accelerating pace”.

This first volume surveys the toccatas of American composers and proves a rich - and well-programmed - feast of ebullient piano music, though not without sufficient variety of mood and pace to make it satisfying as a recital disc.

I can honestly say that I found every piece here - almost all of which were new to me - of interest in one way or another. A few, inevitably, stand out. The Toccata by Ned Rorem which opens the programme has an impish wit and a fascinating interplay between some lyrical passages and a gradual building of exultant energy; Vincent Persichetti’s delightful set of three Toccatinas encompasses both the rapid headlong runs of the first and the almost Debussian colours of the third; Menotti’s Ricercare and Toccata begins in a Bachian idiom of dignified beauty before, in the Toccata, treating the same theme to a florid moto perpetuo treatment; Emma Lou Diemer’s Serenade/Toccata opens lyrically and proceeds through some moments of repose, before building a growing momentum which, after some complex cross-rhythms, culminates in a hectic conclusion. The Toccata alla Scarlatti of Raymond Lewenthal - who would surely have relished playing many of these pieces - is a delightfully ornamented Scarlatti pastiche in 5/8 time - this deserves an honourable place amongst such twentieth-century hommages to Scarlatti as Kurtág’s Hommage à D.S., Marcelle de Manziarly’s Hommage à Scarlatti and Francaix’s piece of the same title.

Elsewhere, such composers as Riegger (with a rapid moto perpetuo), Fine (with an elegant piece of neo-classicism), Sowerby (through some intriguing dissonances) and Harris (with a characteristic piece full of plangent harmonies) are all heard to good effect. And so are others.

Philip Amalong meets all the technical demands that the music makes upon him, and plays with impressive bravura in a manner which conveys his evident pleasure in this kind of music. A little more space around the recorded sound of Amalong’s Steinway Model D wouldn’t have gone amiss, but this is only a minor quibble and shouldn’t put anyone off investigating this entertaining exploration of some (largely) unfamiliar repertoire. Further volumes should be worth looking out for.

Glyn Pursglove 

Track listing
Ned ROREM (b.1923)
Toccata (1948) [2:59]
George ANTHEIL (1900-59)
Toccata No.1 (1948) [1:53]
Lee HOIBY (b.1926)
Toccata, Op. 1 (1949) [5:19]
Irving FINE (1914-1962)
Little Toccata (1958) [1:09]
Leo SOWERBY (1895-1968)
Toccata (1941) [3:27]
Lowell LIEBERMANN (b.1961)
Toccata (1993) [1:07]
George ANTHEIL (1900-59)
Toccata No. 2 (1948) [2:16]
Benjamin LEES (b.1924)
Toccata for Piano (1947) [2:15]
Roy HARRIS (1898-1979)
Toccata (1949) [4:31]
Mark Louis LEHMAN (b.1947)
Toccatina (2007) [2:36]
Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911-2007)
Ricercare and Toccata on a theme from "Old Maid and the Thief" (1953) [6:38]
Robert MUCZYNSKI (b.1929)
Toccata for Piano, Op. 15 (1962) [3:20]
Emma Lou DIEMER (b.1927)
Serenade Toccata (1996) [7:36]
Raymond LEWENTHAL (1923-88)
Toccata alla Scarlatti (1975) [3:27]
Wallingford RIEGGER (1885-1961)
Toccata (1947) [0:56]
Vincent PERSICHETTI (1915-87)
Toccatina No.1 (1980)[2:25]
Toccatina No.2 (1980) [1:56]
Toccatina No.3 (1980) [1:34]
James BASTIEN (1934-2006)
Toccata (1975) [1:33]


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