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Paul BOWLES (1910-1999)
Piano music - Volume 2
Three Pieces for Two Pianos (1949/35/76) [9.24]
Four Piano Pieces (1933-39) [9.25]
Three Latin American Pieces (1943-46) [4.45]
Tamanar (1931-33) [5.48]
Sonatina Fragmentaria (1933) [3.58]
Four Miniatures (1932-1943) [5.02]
Blue Mountain Ballades (1946) (arr. piano duet, Andrey Kasparov) (2014) [6.51]
Three piano duo arrangements (Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale) (1940-44) [5.59]
Invencia Piano Duo (Andrey Kasparov (piano primo) and Oksana Lutsyshyn (piano)
rec. Wilson G. Chandler Recital Hall, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia USA, 5-7 October 2013, 11-12 January 2014, 1-3 February 2014

Back in 2009 I was on holiday in Morocco, specifically in Tangiers. Near the English church I discovered, as an escape from the noisy market, a little shop selling books in English. I was short of reading matter for the journey home so picked up a novel, The Sheltering Sky written in 1949 by Paul Bowles, the American composer and novelist who lived in Tangiers from 1947. The book was evocative of post-war North Africa and I thought it wonderful – first rate. So when I realised that composer and novelist were one and the same I found myself glad to review the present disc, the second in his complete piano music. Sadly I missed the first volume: Naxos 8.559786.

This CD contains Bowles' most performed score, Night Waltz, the first of the Three Pieces for Two Pianos, which opens the CD. Rhythmically, this is a complex work of polyrhythms. It's the sort of thing he may have heard in the Tangiers streets and was written in the same year as the novel. The middle Nocturne was composed fourteen years earlier but the finale with its jazzy exoticism dates from 1976.

Bowles had been an inveterate traveller even before 1947 as the Four Piano Pieces demonstrate. The first, the rather neo-classical Impasse de Tombouchtou also refers to a dingy street in Thiviers in Southern France. Café sin Nombre and Carretera de Estapona refers to Southern Spain. Estapona, now a glamorous seaside town can almost be seen from Tangiers, and is, I recall, a pleasant boat trip away. Surrounded by a dry and desert landscape it was much more basic and village-like in Bowles’ day. The opening, with its massive chords, reminds us that it is surrounded by those startlingly blue, imposing mountains. In between these pieces is an elegant and tonally ambiguous Theseus and Maldoror inspired by Greek legend.

Bowles’ travel diaries continue with the Three Latin American Pieces. It’s Mexico which is celebrated in movement 1 with its lively rhythms (El Bejuco) and Costa Rica in 3 (Sayula). Despite their brevity these pieces attract immediately. Movement 2 (Orosi) is delicate and is succeeded by a dance-like episode reminding me of Mompou’s Canço i dansa which was also composed during the mid-1940s.

In the detailed and helpful booklet notes Andrey Kasparov describes the Sonatina Fragmentaria as having “crystalline sonorities”. The tiny middle movement is somewhat Spanish in flavour while the outer ones are more thoughtful and enigmatic. All in all, this amounts to a series of attractive mosaics.

South of Morocco, in the Atlas Mountains, is Tamanar. Views from this village inspired this austere, striking and unusually dissonant mini-tone poem. Bowles went there with Aaron Copland who had just completed his equally austere Piano Variations. Bowles discovers some intriguing sonorities. It's a great shame that he did not pursue this style very often.

The Four Miniatures are practically polytonal and pointillistic but are in Bowles’ usual light-hearted manner with Reverie having a touch of Spain about it again. The Sonatina is neo-classical, almost Poulencian. There is no sense of classical development; in other words the Germanic influence Bowles so disliked is disregarded in favour of the interconnection of fragments. The middle movement is a lyrical Andante Cantabile with a long line which reaches a strong climax.

The last seven tracks are devoted to arrangements for piano duet of miscellaneous Bowles pieces. Kasparov selected four songs, apparently quite popular, originally from 1946, all in a light jazz style and called them Blue Mountain Ballades. Gold and Fizdale took three miscellaneous pieces. The first, Colloquy Sentimental is the only surviving material from a lost Bowles ballet score. The next, Caminata again betrays a Spanish influence and is part of a ballet set in Mexico. The last, Turkey Trot is a sort of wild Scott Joplin essay and brings the CD to a zany conclusion.

This disc proved more attractive and interesting than I had expected. Although Bowles may be a better writer than a composer he certainly deserves his place in the Naxos American Classics series.

Gary Higginson



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