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John Alden CARPENTER (1876-1951)
Krazy Kat - a Jazz Pantomine (1921) [13:07]
Concertino for piano and orchestra (1915, rev. 1947) [25:43]
Carmel Concerto (1948) [14:32] *
Patterns, for piano and orchestra (1932) [17:51] *
Michael Chertock (piano)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Keith Lockhart
* world premieres
rec. 2014, Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
DUTTON CDLX7321 [71:40]

My first encounter with the music of American John Alden Carpenter was the Naxos CD of his two symphonies and his best-known work, Adventures in a Perambulator, a relatively early release in their American Classics series (review). I hadn't listened to it in quite a while, so gave it a quick revisit, and reminded myself that the two symphonies were worthy, though not especially memorable, and rather anachronistic for works written during WW2. None of the works on the Naxos disc evinced any jazz influences, so I was rather surprised to find that three of the works on this new Dutton disc were very much of that genre.

Krazy Kat is the eponymous character of a cartoon strip that first appeared in the New York Evening Journal in 1913. There aren't too many classical works that are based on cartoon strips; the only other one I can think of is Ellen Zwilich's Peanuts. Carpenter's music was written for a pantomime ballet, choreographed by Adolph Bolm. It predates Rhapsody in Blue by several years, so the use of a saxophone and wa-wa mutes on the brass must have provoked consternation for some.

The sound-world of the Piano Concertino is something of a mix of the Romanticism of Rachmaninov and the jazz of Gershwin, all blended with Latin sensibilities. The notes don't explain why it is called a concertino, given that at 25 minutes plus, it certainly isn't a miniature, but it is rather light in atmosphere, so that may be the reason. The rather odd mix results in a work that is enjoyable at any moment that you choose to drop in on it, but doesn't really hang together as a whole. The slow movement is dreamily pretty, but meandering.

The Carmel Concerto, Carpenter's final symphonic work, reworks material from an earlier violin concerto; no solo part remains. It is a tribute to the California seaside town of that name, where Carpenter had spent some time. It has no jazz influence, unlike its disc-mates. It is my pick of the works on this CD, by turns playful, graceful, and wistful, adding some dramatic elements towards the close. For this to be its first recording emphasises how there remain plenty of fine works still waiting their turn.

Patterns is not a conventional piano concerto, or indeed concertino, but has a substantial and difficult part for the soloist. Despite what I said about Carpenter's symphonies, he can't be accused of not paying attention to the changing musical environment. This work uses a tone-row as the recurring theme for the work, but clothes it in harmonies that make the result more approachable.

The performances are uniformly excellent, and the notes by pianist Michael Chertock comprehensive and informative. Had I known that the dominant style here was jazz-influenced, I probably wouldn't have requested the disc for review. I certainly didn't not enjoy any of the works, and the Carmel concerto is one I will probably revisit occasionally.

David Barker

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