American Sonata (1944) On This Ground (1971) Theme
and Variations No. 2 (1971) Piano Sonata No. 4 (1980) Piano
Sonata No. 5 (1987)
Elie Siegmeister was a New Yorker whose name is probably
known (if at all) to most listeners for his two orchestral suites: Ozark
Set (1943) and Western Suite (1945). I have heard tapes of
his symphonies 3, 4 (premièred by Maazel) and 6 and the violin
concerto; the latter pioneered by Cho Liang Lin and manyu of these are
in an argumentative avant-garde style.
Siegmeister's musical style is often dyspeptic and challenging.
The most immediately approachable piece on the CD is the American
Sonata with its explosively tumbling jazziness gambolling through
territory to which Lambert, Walton and Gershwin had already laid claim.
There is also a totally charming touch of Arthur Benjamin's Jamaican
Rumba. The second movement is plangently melancholy with more than
a suggestion of Peter Warlock and William Walton (middle movement of
his under-estimated Sinfonia Concertante). The joyous and ripely
syncopated finale is decidedly Stravinskian (Petrushka-era).
A sweet Mediterranean semplice (2:12) relieves the headlong rush.
The sonata is not especially American to my ears. It is however extremely
attractive and well worth hearing.
The remainder of the works on this well-filled disc
are challengingly atonal. On This Ground has the piano protagonist
wandering under lichen-strung forest boughs amidst mild discords, battering
cascades of notes (Ariel) and clammy caves during a rather dank
summer. Mr Henry's Monday Night alternates rip-roaring sprint
with slower sections.
Theme and Variations inhabits a tough school
and it is one which, to my ears, yields very sparse rewards. The 4th
sonata has a Petrushkan prelude, a bluesy - andante with a Celtic lilt
and, to round off, a poundingly chaotic allegro vivace. The fifth
sonata first movement suggests very slow singing with the notes softened
and diffused atonally. The anarchically hammered finale reeks of the
1920s but this fast driven storm is contrasted with a slow dreamy bridge
The insert is good although the central two pages were left blank
in my copy and I would guess that this will be put right in future printings.
This Naxos series continues to spill out bountifully
every month. It promises to be THE series of US classical music. When
New World and Delos ran out of stamina Naxos slipped naturally into
the scene and are doing a job of historical value. If that was all it
might seem rather an ascetic exercise. In fact it already yields some
wondrous treasures, much enjoyment and discovery after discovery.
My star marking reflects my reaction to all but the American Sonata.
The performances are, as far as I can tell, excellent as also is the