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Vincent PERSICHETTI (1915-1987)
Solo Piano Works - Volume 1
Sonatinas: No. 1, Op. 38 (1950) [3:25]; No. 2, Op. 45 (1950) [4:12]; No. 3, Op. 47 (1950) [3:15]; No. 4, Op. 63 (1954) [2:40]; No. 5, Op. 64 (1954) [2:01]; No. 6, Op. 65 (1954) [1:33]
Little Piano Book, Op. 60 (1953) [12:09]
Serenades: No. 7, Op. 55 (1952) [7:30]; No. 2, Op. 2 (1929) [2:19]
Poems for Piano, Vol. 1, Op. 4 (1939) [7:27]; Vol. 2, Op. 5 (1939) [7:43]; Vol. 3, Op. 14 (1941) [12:47]
Parades, Op. 57 (1952) [2:42]
Variations for an Album, Op. 32 (1947) [3:05]
Myron Silberstein (piano)
rec. 2015, Patrych Sound Studios, Bronx, New York.
CENTAUR RECORDS CRC3632 [71:35]

Among United States composers who lived during the last century Vincent Persichetti has had patchy attention. Recurrently prominent in a long worklist are 25 Parables and 15 Serenades, all for various instrumentations. Serenades 2 and 7 are for solo piano and feature in the set under review. There are nine numbered symphonies, of which the first two are not available for performance - echoes of Schuman and Mennin and to some extent Harris. The Fourth Symphony was taken up by Ormandy and selections of the symphonies can be heard on Albany (TROY771-2) and First Edition (FECD0034). The Four String Quartets have been recorded by the Lydian Quartet for Centaur. There are concertos for Piano and for English Horn, championed respectively by James Dick in New York and Thomas Stacy in Philadelphia. The twelve numbered piano sonatas have been recorded by Geoffrey Burleson for New World.

Now, at the very same Patrych studios used for the New World sonata set, comes the first of what appears to be a solo piano series for Centaur by Myron Silberstein who is also a composer. His recording of solo piano works by Peter Mennin and Norman Lloyd was released on Naxos American Classics a few years back and is well worth a second listen. More than twenty years ago he recorded Bloch's piano sonata and works by Giannini for Connoisseur Society.

As is evident from the Burleson recordings of the piano sonatas, Persichetti is not given to extended statements. His messages are telegraphed succinctly and this aspect has been there from his earliest days. There are 55 tracks on this 72-minute CD. The six Sonatinas - like so much else here from the first half of the 1950s - are rife with music that speaks through softened collisions of Bach and jazz; a world of sly smiles and peaceful slowly unfolding dreams. There's an engaging strolling self-absorption and cooling contemplative quality that relates more to Ravel than Debussy with gentle dances that suggest a kinship with the works of Rubbra (Farnaby Improvisations) and Warlock (Capriol).

The Little Piano Book comprises 13 balmy and folksy micro-miniatures. The effect is cooling yet prefigures Nancarrow and Kapustin. Often Persichetti and Silberstein make hay with an affecting humming tone. For me this is one of the marks of fine pianism and one that escapes the confines of a percussive instrument (tr. 22). Tracks 25-26 of the Book make use of fugal intricacy, but it's not academic. The relaxing Berners-like saunter and sunny dissonance of Serenade No. 7 contrasts with "Bad Boy" moments in No. 2, suggesting sympathy with the early works of Cowell, Antheil and Ornstein. The three volumes of Poems date from just before the USA's entry into World War II. Their language extends to an impressive slow stepping arioso, a tenderly whimsical jazzy piacevole and an intriguing world of strange corners and secret smiles. The Parades, with their uncluttered textures, ripple with convulsive twitchy activity: a sort of Restless Legs Syndrome in music.

The extensive notes are by Walter Simmons, musicologist and dedicated advocate of an often-neglected generation of American composers. His excellent Rowman & Littlefield book (Voices of Stone and Steel, 2011) conjoins spectacularly accessible studies of Mennin, Schumann and Persichetti. His notes for Centaur make a satisfying foil to this well performed and recorded disc. It is delightful that Persichetti's music is in such sympathetic hands.

Rob Barnett


 



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