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Jonathan Woolf
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Familiar Favorites
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 Pathétique: Adagio cantabile (1798) [5:16]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 (1832) [1:33]
Waltz Op.64 No.1 Minute [1:44]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Preludes: C sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2 (1892) [4:25]
Traditional etc
The Lord’s Prayer (Malotte/arr Anne Kennedy) [3:04]
Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit (Trad arr Matthew Kennedy) [1:19]
This Little Light o’Mine (Trad arr John W Work III-Matthew Kennedy) [2:46]
How Great Thou Art (Trad trans Stuart K Kine) [2:51]
Londonderry Air (Trad) [3:15]
Tea for Two (Youmans/Caesar) [1:53]
Stardust (Parish/Carmichael) [3:15]
Sophisticated Lady (Ellington/Mills) [3:32]
I’m Beginning to see the Light (Ellington/James) [1:45]
Solitude (Ellington/DeLange) [3:21]
Take the ‘A’ Train (Strayhorn) [1:44]
Matthew Kennedy (piano)
rec. c. 2003
Private Release [45:27]

Matthew Kennedy (1921-2014) was an American pianist, born in Georgia, who earned a diploma at Juilliard in 1940, after which he studied at Fisk University. He made his first solo piano recital at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1958 - war service had interrupted his studies - and went on to have a decades long career at his alma mater, Fisk, where he was also director of the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. It was this role by which he is perhaps best known.

This disc celebrates his lifetime of performance and teaching and his devotion to Gospel music – his choral arrangements have been published and widely sung – and pays attention to his classical background as much as to his love of jazz and popular music culled from the American Songbook.

When he gave his Carnegie Hall debut in March 1958 the New York Herald Tribune wrote that ‘The pianist’s tone is round and sonorous; he produces a lot of it, and yet never pounds… he consistently pursued a lyrical course of interpretation, as opposed to a sharply dramatic one’ whilst the The New York Times admired his ‘thoughtful, intelligent approach to keyboard problems’. Chopin and Rachmaninov were on the programme as well as Bach-Busoni, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Poulenc and Albéniz. For this CD recital, given when he was in his early 80s, he plays the much-loved slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata. Half a century or so after that Carnegie Hall recital his ability to convey songful lyricism is intact. His Chopin Nocturne is calm, measured, reflective, and he promotes tonal lustre rather than mere speed in the Minute waltz; in fact, his tempo here is perfectly standard. He had heard Rachmaninov in performance in 1932 and clearly much valued the memory; he plays the Prelude in C sharp minor with introspection, only gradually allowing the music to generate necessary amplitude. It’s clear from these brief examples that he was a poetic, lyric player, not given to exhibitions of truculence or unnecessary show.

One can hardly argue with his Gospel performances, which are devoted and full of noble phrasing (try The Lord’s Prayer). His rhythms are crisp and there’s an especially touching reading of This Little Light o’Mine. As with his Rachmaninov, he is careful to grade the climax of How Great Thou Art to ensure a virtuoso flourish. In the popular items he’s clearly not averse to some vivacious Stride in Tea for Two – doubtless he knew his James P Johnson and Fats Waller – and he lavishes rich chording on Stardust, where he shows true appreciation of the song’s romantic tracery. There is a fine salute to Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn, too not least in a richly upholstered Sophisticated Lady – she really is sophisticated in this reading – and he gets a good rolling rhythm in I’m Beginning to see the Light. Amusingly, in his last piece, the ‘A’ Train sparkles on the track with Stride speed until it hits the buffers with an abrupt halt.

Kennedy was a significant figure at Fiske and beyond. It’s good to know that he recorded this recital, its chapters reflecting his life’s work at the keyboard and on the Fiske conductor’s stand.

Jonathan Woolf

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