In Evening Air
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Bagatelles, op. 126, NN1-3, 5-6 (1823-24) [15:18]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Prelude op.11/9 (1895) [1:37]
Prelude op.11/10 (1895) [1:26]
Prelude op.11/13 (1895) [1:32]
Prelude op.51/2 (1906) [2:25]
Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Miniatures Op.12 (Reminiscence; Lullaby; Longing) (1918-19) [7:54]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Midday Thoughts (1944/82) [2:49]
Down a Country Lane (1962) [1:55]
Midsummer Nocturne (1947) [2:04]
In Evening Air (1966-72) [2:53]
Sunday Afternoon Music (1935) [2:03]
Ned ROREM (b.1923)
Six Friends (For Mary; For Marian; For Rosemary; For Ben; For Barbara; For Don) (1999-2006) [10:44]
75 Notes for Jerry (2007) [1:21]
Lowell LIEBERMANN (b.1961)
Nocturne, op. 20/1 (1986) [5:26]
Carolyn Enger (piano)
rec. July 2008, Greenfield Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York. DDD
Privatre label [59:18]
Some discs are just needed. For quite a while I felt a need for an “evening disc” – calm and peaceful, to make me forget the troubles of a hard day. Something my wife would also like. And let it be the entire disc – without running to skip tracks, without sudden sharp edges, violent or jubilant outbursts. Sure, there are Chopin’s Nocturnes, but even they pall after a time. Brahms wrote only one Op.117, and I cannot listen to Satie for long. The ubiquitous “music for relaxation” is not an option: for me most of it sounds devoid of art, too functional. Its world is empty.
The album “In Evening Air” by Carolyn Enger gave me exactly what I wished. It is a well selected, expressively played set of piano miniatures by composers from Beethoven to Rorem. From the first note it creates that intimate evening mood.
One good decision was to take music from such diverse epochs and styles. Each composer imparts his own color; together they form a palette. Listening is much more interesting than might be expected. Beethoven’s Bagatelles stand out, like glistening little stars. Probably that’s because among all these fine composers one was a genius. But the rest is also of quality and can proudly share space with Beethoven. Most of it is Romantic, very melodic, with different levels of harmonic complexity. The Copland pieces are pastoral and meditative. Hanson’s are lush and rich, in the Rachmaninov vein. Liebermann’s Nocturne is dark, rather advanced harmonically. The Ned Rorem miniatures are simple and sincere. And Scriabin is Scriabin.
Another good decision was to break and mix the cycles. No two pieces from the same set are neighbors. For example, Copland’s pieces definitely benefit from being dispersed like this; in a bunch they would look alike, while separately they can be better appreciated.
The playing of Carolyn Enger is thoughtful and sensitive. It is expressive, yet without external pressure: the expressivity comes from the music itself; the pianist only opens the doors to let it out. She plays with fine nuance and tone-shading. The Beethoven Bagatelles are done perfectly. It’s a pity that No.4 was omitted – evidently its wild dance could ruin the languid mood of the collection. For the same reason, the sharpness of the energetic “parentheses” in No.6 is reduced. Much of the other music was new to me (by the way, this is the world premiere recording of the Rorem set) - and the presentation is, to my ears, faultless. I am already looking forward to her next album, which will be entirely dedicated to Ned Rorem’s miniatures and is planned for release later this year. Enger’s playing reminded me of that of Mitsuko Uchida: it applies the same level of concentrated attention to each single note and demonstrates admiration for each precious sound, unhurried, timeless. The instrument has a beautiful voice, and is impeccably recorded.
This disc has already magically transformed a few of my evenings, and I am sure it can do the same for any lover of Romantic piano music. Absolute pleasure.
Expressively played. Creates the intimate evening mood. Absolute pleasure.