There is as much an art in composing a miniature as there is in writing a short story. Both are notoriously difficult since telling a complete story in a brief time is a real challenge. In music there are some brilliant examples from Chopin to Satie. Ned Rorem’s name can be added to the list as this disc will amply demonstrate.
Jim Holmes, Ned’s partner of thirty two years was the inspiration for the majority of the pieces in Piano Album I along with other close friends. He would ensure that each piece would fit onto a single page so that he could then brightly decorate it and frame it. That alone makes for the minute scale of them with only a single example lasting much over two minutes. As he is quoted in the insert he then incorporated many of them into others of his works. I always think this is such a good idea since so many composers’ wonderful tunes only get single outings which is a shame. Six Friends is another similar set and all these miniatures are so gentle in their writing. The overall feeling is of an oasis of serene calm that is the perfect antidote to a stressful day.
I have been listening again while writing this review to another disc of Rorem’s music also from Naxos. This includes his works End of Summer and Bright Music. Each confirms his originality which seems boundless.
Time magazine called him “the world’s best composer of art songs” with over 400 to his name which I must make a mental note to check out.
The pianist here, Carolyn Enger, plays with a highly sympathetic approach to the delicate phrasing required to emphasise the gentle nature of these pieces.
This disc is a good place to start an exploration of one of America’s most distinguished composers.
Reviews of Ned Rorem on Naxos