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Complete Piano Works – Volume 2
Paul BOWLES (1910-1999)
Three Pieces for Two Pianos [9:24]
Four Piano Pieces [9:25]
Sonatina Fragmentaria (1933) [3:58]
Four Miniatures (1932-1943) [5:02]
Three Latin American Pieces [4.45]
Tamanar (1931-1933) [5:48]
Sonatina (1932-1933) [7:30}
Blue Mountain Ballads (1946/2014) [6:51]
Three Piano Duo Arrangements by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale [5:59]
The Invencia Piano Duo (Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn)
rec. 5-7 October 2014 (Three Pieces) 11-12 January 2014 (Four Pieces Nos 1,3, Sonatina Fragmentaria, Three Latin American Pieces) 1-3 February 2014 (Four Piano Pieces Nos 2, 4, Tamanar, Sonatina) 11-12 October 2014 (Four Miniatures, Blue Mountain Ballads, Three Piano Duo Arrangements) Wilson G Chandler Recital Hall, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA
NAXOS 8.559787 [58:44]

Paul Frederic Bowles was an American expatriate composer, author, and translator, who first settled in Tangier, Morocco in 1947, where he then spent the next fifty-two years of his life. During his early upbringing in New York City, he displayed a talent both for writing and for music, which he studied with Aaron Copland. He achieved popular success with his first novel ‘The Sheltering Sky’ (1949), set in what was then French North Africa, and which initiated his love affair with the country, as witness the Berber symbol that adorns the front of the CD booklet.

Naxos issued the first instalment of Bowles’s piano music earlier this year in its ‘American Classics’ series, and this second CD is the final instalment. The Invencia Duo’s Primo piano-player, as well as being a solo pianist on the CD, Andrey Kasparov – who also contributed the excellent and highly-informative booklet notes – groups the otherwise first three independent tracks under his own title of ‘Three Pieces for Two Pianos’, which opens with one of Bowles’s most-recorded and celebrated works. Night Waltz was written in 1949, which is significant in that it was composed after Bowles had settled in Tangier, and there are clear hints of some more exotic, Arabic-inspired scales in the writing. While essentially in waltz-time, there are frequent rhythmic changes, that would keep any ballroom-dancers on their toes, if not, in fact, on the floor, were they to attempt to dance to it. For the majority of the piece there are harmonic implications that would also hint at the ‘French Connection’, somewhat reminiscent of Poulenc’s style, but with some added spice, by way of harsher dissonance, though with a decided ‘bluesy’ feel as well. About three-quarters of the way through, Bowles nicely side-steps the prevailing mood, for what sounds rather like a short Mexican mariachi interlude, and leads straight to the work’s swift dénouement. Nocturne was written earlier in 1935 and is dark and mysterious at the start, mildly dissonant, as well as often richly harmonised throughout, but yearningly attractive. Cross Country is an altogether later piece, composed in 1976, and in a much lighter vein, with flashes of Milhaud’s ‘Scaramouche – and a cheeky little ending to boot.

Kasparov bundles the next four tracks under the title of ‘Four Piano Pieces’. Oksana Lutsyshyn plays the first and third in the set, leaving Kasparov to play the second and fourth – all are world-premiere recordings. Impasse de Tombouctou (1934) sets an atmospheric mood which then becomes more impassioned towards the middle, where the melody is often embellished with traditional ornaments. Café Sin Nombre (1933) is again cast in shifting tonalities, though these have essentially logical harmonic resolutions. Theseus and Maldoror (1933) again is a wistful confection, with frequent tonal moments, and yet a nebulous, questioning ending. The High Way to Estepona (1938), by contrast, has strong Spanish idioms, both in terms of rhythm, harmonic colour, and the use of Moorish scales, attesting to Bowles’s mastery of this particular idiom.

Sonatina Fragmentaria (1933) is a three-movement work, though it lasts a mere four minutes or so. The opening movement – ‘Adagio misterioso’ – lives up to its title, while the ensuing ‘Allegro’ has more of a laid-back jazz feel especially in its melodic lines. The final ‘Adagio’ returns more to the ambiance of the opening, though with some further jazz-derived harmonies nearer the end. The Four Miniatures (1932-1943) very much showcase the composer’s ability to create a vivid musical tableau in a very short space of time. The first of the group – Prélude pour Bernard Suarèz – lasts a mere thirty-four seconds, while even the longest piece, Sarabande, is not quite two minutes long. The next three tracks – which Kasparov calls ‘Three Latin American Pieces’ – reflect the composer’s interest in Mexico, Central America and the Spanish language, witnessed earlier in Night Waltz. El Bejuco (1943) is a lively, dance-like number, for all but its last few bars, while Orosí (1948) begins in more subdued manner, before blossoming in the middle, before closing with a return to the opening calm. Sayula (1946) is another world-premiere recording, once more an energetic dance with sufficient changes of metre adding extra verve into yet another highly-entertaining miniature.

The world-premiere recording of Tamanar (1931-1933) is the longest single piece on the CD at almost six minutes, and is decidedly the most challenging work here, in terms of its often jarring harmonies. Tamanar is actually a village on the south-western coast of Morocco with stunning views of the Atlas Mountains as you journey towards it. But there is little suggestion of any programmatic or descriptive element in the music, which, in the context of the CD as a whole, seems an overtly self-conscious attempt to be discordant.

The three-movement Sonatina (1932-1933) that follows differs from the earlier Sonatina Fragmentaria in that it follows the conventional fast-slow-fast design – lively and virtuosic in the outer movements, particularly so the finale, but peacefully melancholic in the central ‘Andante cantabile’.

Four more world-premieres follow, by way of Blue Mountain Ballads, arranged for piano duet by Andrey Kasparov. Originally written in 1946, Kasparov’s piano-duet version of these four songs set to poetry by Tennessee Williams, dates from 2014. All four – Heavenly Grass, Lonesome Man, Cabin, and Sugar in the Cane – are eminently tuneful in their different ways. The first is reflective, while the second is set in a jazzy ‘cakewalk’ fashion, with a melody not miles removed from that of ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’. The third is in a more sedate triple metre, while the last has again a distinct ‘blues’ feel to it, and a rather quizzical ending.

The CD closes with three more world-premiere recordings, ‘Three Piano Duo Arrangements by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale’. Arthur Gold (1917-1990) and Robert Fizdale (1920- 1995) were an American two-piano ensemble, who were also authors and television cookery-show hosts. They met during their student days at the Juilliard School. Colloque Sentimental (1944) is a slow and nostalgic jazz ballad, while Caminata (ca. 1940s) starts with a slow introduction before launching into an energetic dance, until the tempo reverts to that of the opening. Turkey Trot (ca. 1940s) rounds off the set – and indeed the CD – with a nice little ragtime number, though the harmony sometimes appears undecided between major and minor versions of the same chord, as well as flirting with polytonal effects – writing in more than one key at the same time – though largely to great effect.

Philip R Buttall

Previous review: Gary Higginson
 


 

 




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