Jonathan FEBLAND (b. 1954)
Preludes 1, 2, 3 [6:53]; Transitions [6:26]; Preludes 4, 5, 6 [7:57]; Ripostes [9:21]; 3 Bagatelles [3:32]; Sonata No. 2, “Luminous” [6:35]; 3 Jazz Etudes [5:45]; Midwinter Morning Melody [3:12]; Song of Summer [1:51]; 12 Jazz Piano Pieces [21:36]
Louis Demetrius Alvanis (piano)
rec. no details provided
MERIDIAN CDE84538 [73:09]
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 do so.
Very fine piano playing, but the music is disappointing.