Reading the CD booklet and following a few internet links one
learns that Jonathan FeBland was born in 1960 and studied at the
Royal Academy of Music. He composes in “several different styles
including Contemporary Serious Music, Light/Educational Music
and various different Jazz genres.” He has written a novel and
a play, and the booklet cover image is credited to him. Under
the name of Jonathan Land, he gives lessons at his home to beginners
and advanced students alike.
The Preludes, which open this disc, are, to quote the notes, “examples
of FeBland’s light Classical or educational style, aimed to be
playable by intermediate to advanced level students”. The Spanish
Prelude is made up of a naggingly memorable melody of four-note
phrases, beautifully harmonised on its first appearance and with
a few “wrong” notes added later. It’s a most attractive and engaging
piece, but I don’t hear much Spanish influence, and of Shostakovich,
cited in the notes, I hear nothing at all. And if less than nothing
is possible, I hear even less Stravinsky in the third of these
pieces. Instead, the music seems heavily influenced by Debussy
and those composers following the example of Michael Nyman.
Transitions is given as a sample of the composer’s “contemporary
serious or avant-garde music”, so the more advanced musical language
is unsurprising. The notes tell us that “the piece is built in
sections: one section flowing into the next” and that we will
encounter “a diverse, yet interconnected musical landscape”. This
may be true, but the piece’s form is difficult to discern, and
though there are many striking sounds the listener is left feeling
unsure of what it was all about. Debussy is very much present
here too, in particular his Feux d’artifice, whose brilliant yet
cold atmosphere the piece quite skilfully recreates.
Of the “tumult” cited in the booklet in respect of Ripostes there
is plenty, but I hear precious little of the “melody”. This is
not in itself a weakness: to return to Debussy’s Préludes, clearly
a major influence on FeBland’s style, there are several which
are primarily studies in piano timbre and figuration. But FeBland
is no Debussy – how could he be? – and liberal use of the sustaining
pedal cannot hide the shortage of distinctive musical content.
A sudden explosion a third of the way in is expertly written,
but seems unjustified, and the rapid, seven quavers to a bar finale,
referred to in the notes as “dazzling”, came over as mightily
depressing to this disappointed listener.
As a music lover I try very hard with music that doesn’t work
for me, taking the view that the composer or performer is in good
faith and believes in it. In this case, sadly, only negative feelings
remain. The Three Bagatelles are attractive pieces that must be
fun to play, but they are very derivative, and not only of the
composers – Pergolesi, Grieg and Bridge – featured in the titles.
Debussy and the sustaining pedal reappear in the Sonata, and this
in spite of the extensive violent dissonance. Louis Demetrius
Alvanis works hard and to excellent effect here, and the fact
that he has premiered no less than seven major works by FeBland
attests to his faith in the composer. But there really are so
many, many notes, and to so little effect!
I feel less qualified to offer serious commentary on the rest
of the CD, as the pieces are in jazz or, in two pieces, New Age
style. All I can say is that despite their attractiveness – and
many of them are very attractive indeed – they seem to my relatively
inexpert ears more like exercises in jazz style pastiche than
the real thing.
No recording date is given, but the sound is fine. The performances
seem outstandingly expert, and I can’t see how a pianist could
play like this were he not totally committed to the music. The
writers of the insert notes try hard to point out the composer’s
accomplishments, occasionally more than stretching a point to