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Edward MacDOWELL (1860-1908)
Piano Sonatas: No. 1 Tragica Op. 45 (1891-2) [23:23]; No. 2 Eroica Op. 50 (1895) [21:07]; No. 3 Norse Op. 57 (1899) [17:12]; No. 4 Keltic Op. 59 (1900) [17:30]
Donna Amato (piano)
rec. c. 2002. no details of date or location
ALTARUS AIR-CD-9023 [81:24]

Experience Classicsonline

In the case of this pianist it is not just that she seems to know no fears about tackling the unfashionable and peripheral – at least that which is viewed as peripheral by the mainstream. Amato plunges with gusto into the travails associated with learning such repertoire and brings to it the intellect and humanity of an artist in the grand tradition. Her Sorabji, Hinton, Stevenson, Cooman (Naxos and Altarus), Rosner and Scelsi (Stradivari) are testimony to her manifest valour and discriminating artistry.

Here she gives the only single disc traversal of the Macdowell piano sonatas. There have been complete surveys of the sonatas before now but never presented on one remarkably packed disc. Nothing feels rushed. She allows the composer’s woodland blossoms to unfold naturally alongside the Scottish skirls and Lisztian volatility and seismic upheavals of the Tragica. The Eroica was the sonata through which I came to know Macdowell. It was a 1976 LP by Clive Lythgow (1927-2006) on Philips 9500 095. This Eroica picks up on Macdowell’s mercurial transitions from woodland glades to Rachmaninovian drama. Amato is deeply impressive throughout but the second movement marked ‘elflike’ skims along like a merry firefly volplaning past inimical darkness. The Norse has a touch of Grieg about it but the Scotch snap again puts in an appearance in the weightily impassioned middle movement. Amato revels in the rhetoric of the finale. After the three movement Norse we stay with the format for the Keltic. This work is strenuously heroic, irradiated by the lyric essence of Grieg and alive with iron-shod goblin ruthlessness.

Amato is no stranger to Macdowell having recorded the two piano concertos in the mid-1990s. These can be heard on Alto. The Naxos Macdowell 4 CD series by James Barbagallo forms a smart and ideal complement to the sonatas. As for the competition for cycles of all four there are Alan Mandel on Phoenix (2 CDs) and James Tocco on Gasparo (4 CDs matched up with Griffes).

The notes are more like an essay and by no means couched in unapproachable language. The author is Francis Brancaleone.

Rob Barnett


































































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