PERSICHETTI: Symphony No. 6. Sonatas for Harpsichord Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5. SCARLATTI: Sonatas (7) for Harpsichord. GRAINGER: Lincolnshire Posy; Hill Song No. 2. ROGERS: Three Japanese Dances. HARTLEY: Concerto for 23 Winds. KHACHATURIAN: Armenian Dances.

PERSICHETTI: Sonatas for Harpsichord Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5. SCARLATTI: Sonatas for Harpsichord L. 138, 157, 160, 178, 268, 457, 474. Elaine Camparone, harpsichord. LAUREL LR-838CD [ADD]; 71:54. Produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert.

PERSICHETTI: Symphony No. 6. GRAINGER: Lincolnshire Posy; Hill Song No. 2. ROGERS: Three Japanese Dances. HARTLEY: Concerto for 23 Winds.KHACHATURIAN: Armenian Dances. Frederick Fennell conducting the Eastman Wind Ensemble. MERCURY 432 754-2 LADD]; 71:28. Produced by Wilma Cozart Fine

Running into Vincent Persichetti at a concert some time in 1981, I asked him what he had been working on lately. He responded excitedly, “I’ve discovered a whole new universe of sound: It’s called the harpsichord.” Those who had the good fortune to enjoy personal acquaintance with this great composer know how characteristic of him was such epigrammatic verbal whimsy. And, indeed, the harpsichord did occupy a good deal of his attention for the rest of his life. Between 1981 and his death in 1987, Persichetti completed 21 works, of which 11 are for harpsichord, including eight of nine sonatas for that instrument. And now Elaine Comparone presents first recordings of four of those sonatas — two of them written for her — on this new Laurel release

Composed within a two-year period, the four sonatas share considerable similarity in conception. Each is between 9 and 11 minutes long, and is divided into several short movements. Each is a fanciful exploration of a largely dissonant, atonal idiom, with spare textures — straight homophony or two-part counterpoint, the most part, clear, energetic rhythmic patterns, linear melodies, and a wide range of harmonic densities, all unfolding organically with a tight structural logic. There is an overall simplicity of means that disguises a subtle complexity of conception, exemplifying Persichetti’s oft-stated goal, “to express more with less.” The results add up to one more aspect o£ the unique, self-contained syntax and rhetoric that comprise the expressive world of Vincent Persichetti. Their angular tonal surface may make an austere initial impression, but the richness of imagination that informs them becomes apparent with greater exposure. A good way to become acquainted with these sonatas is to concentrate on one of them for a while, until it has become familiar. The easiest to penetrate is probably No. 3 — a quirky little masterpiece–so it may be the best place to start. Once this one has been grasped, the overall expressive language should be much clearer to the listener.

Elaine Comparane plays each sonata with great technical finesse and a deep understanding of the music; knowledgeable program notes by Bruce Adolphe provide further illumination. The Persichetti sonatas are complemented by vivid performances of a lovely and varied group o£ seven sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, making this a highly desirable new release Compared to Persichetti’s harpsichord sonatas, his Symphony 6, composed in 1956, displays a more straightforward, diatonic tonal clarity, making it far more accessible to the listener.   When recently reviewing a new recording of this work, played by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Ensemble conducted by Frederick Fennell (Fanfare 14:5, pp. 246-7), 1 wondered whether Mercury’s classic 1959 recording, featuring the same conductor with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, would be reissued on CD. Well, here it is, and boasting sound quality that rivals the stunning new Japanese recording.

Fennell formed the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1952, in an effort to create a wind band of unprecedented flexibility and transparency of sound, capable of playing works of high artistic caliber with the virtuoso precision and musicianship of a fine professional orchestra. Within a few years, the Eastman Wind Ensemble was making recordings that illustrated the success of his endeavor, while stimulating the creation of a fine body of repertoire and bringing it to the attention of the general listener. Of the many major American works for band that appeared during the 1950s, the most fully consummated artistically — as well as the most enduringly successful — is probably Persichetti’s Symphony No. 6, one of 14 works that he composed for this medium his fondness for warm chorales, transparent polytonal textures, crisp, dry sonorities, and lively, syncopated rhythms, Persichetti displayed a tremendous natural affinity for ensembles of winds and percussion. In fact, his works for band are probably more representative of his distinctive musical personality than are his works for orchestra. His symphony for band, in four concise movements, captures the essence of the American neoclassical style and spirit, with an effortless mastery of form and development and an exhilarating spontaneity of invention that are truly Haydnesque. It is not only because of his attention to the band medium that so many music lovers began to appreciate Persichetti when they were young. The warmth, exuberance, and playfulness of pieces like the Symphony No. 6 epitomize youth itself, at its most endearing.

Fulfilling a similar role in the English band repertoire as that occupied by the Persichetti symphony in the American literature is Percy Grainger’s classicLincolnshire Posy. The work comprises a group of English folksongs collected by Grainger in about 1905 and scored in 1937. The tunes are given creative, often ambiguous harmonizations and strange counterpoints, with natural rhythmic irregularities left intact, all arranged with attention to a varied array of imaginative sonorities. The entire suite exudes tremendous brilliance and vitality, and the 1958 performance captured here is positively revelatory.

Grainger’s Hill Song No. 2 ,was composed during the early 1900s and, rather than folksong settings, is more of a short pastoral rhapsody based on folk material. Grainger’s music is always delightful and fascinating, and this is no exception. Bernard Rogers (1893-1968) was closely associated with Howard Hanson during his long tenure on the composition faculty of the Eastman School, although those works of his that I have heard are less richly romantic than Hanson’s. The Three Japanese Dances were originally written for orchestra in 1933, and were re-scored for band twenty years later. They are stark, brilliantly-colored oriental evocations, inspired by Japanese woodblock art. The second features a mezzo-soprano singing an unidentified text.

Walter Hartley was born in 1927 and studied at Eastman with Hanson and Rogers. His 1957 Concerto for 23 Winds is — I’m sorry to say — at the opposite pole from Persichetti’s symphony: a dull, dry, unimaginative example of American neoclassicism owing much to Stravinsky. It leaves no traces in the memory. Khachaturian’s Armenian Dances of 1943 are exactly what one would expect from a work of this title from this composer Armenian melodies in chromatic harmonizations and simple textures, transparently scored. It is the least ambitious work on the disc.

This reissue of recordings made more than thirty years ago is as crystalline and luminescent as we have come to expect from Mercury CD series. One does not need to exaggerate to describe them as virtually state-of-the-art today. The performances are among the best of those made by the Eastman Wind Ensemble, displaying an awe-inspiring precision of execution, sureness of intonation, and breadth of dynamic range, exceeding level achieved at the same time by the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra. Listeners interested in this repertoire and/or this medium are sure not to be disappointed.

BLOCH: Quintet No. 2 for Piano and Strings. LERDAHL: String Quartet No. 2.

BLOCH: Quintet No. 2 for Piano and Strings. LERDAHL: String Quartet No. 2Pro Arte QuartetLAUREL LR-128, produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert, $9.98 [available from: Laurel Record, 2451 Nichols Canyon, Los Angeles, CA 90046].

Laurel Records and the Pro Arte Quartet continue their superb Bloch cycle with the premiere recording of the composer’s Piano Quintet No. 2. The work was composed in 1957, 34 years after its better-known predecessor, when. Bloch was 77 years old and his health was deteriorating. In any case a composition of this scope by a composer of Bloch’s stature would be welcome on records; but the Quintet No. 2 is a fine work in its own right. The Quintet No. 1, like the String Quartet No. 1 and the Violin Sonata No. 1, is a wild emotional outburst ablaze with nightmarish visions of impending doom. But by the time he reached the last decade of his life — a period during which he produced an impressive body of major works, including three symphonies, three string quartets, the Concerto Grosso No. 2, and the Piano Quintet No. 2 — Bloch had achieved a condensation of his musical language, without really diluting his metaphysical content. The rhetoric is simply less extravagant, the form less rhapsodic, and the gestures less expansive. There is a tendency toward rhythmic regularity — in both meter and pattern — that creates a neo-Baroque quality present explicitly in a work like the Concerto Grosso No. 2 but felt also in several contemporaneous works, the Piano Quintet No. 2 among them. Yet this is not to suggest that the work is routine or inferior in any way: The slow movement is a beautiful “haunted nocturne” of the sort Bloch could create so eloquently, while the third movement rages with an undiminished savagery and vitality.

As they further demonstrate with each successive release, the Pro Arte Quartet is among the finest string quartets recording today — indeed, probably the finest among those specializing in 20th-century music. I have known the Bloch Quintet No. 2 for about 15 years, through a tape of the first performance, featuring Leonid Hambro with the Juilliard Quartet. The work never held my interest much, until I heard this new recording. I don’t want to repeat myself in praising the ability of these players to discern and project the essential syntactical dynamics of a piece of music. I will simply say that those who have heard previous Pro Arte performances of Bloch will find this one to be on a comparable level. Those who haven’t obviously don’t follow my recommendations anyway. Does this ensemble intend to record the Piano Quintet No. 1? The New World Quartet with Grant Johannesen did a pretty good job a few years ago (Golden Crest CRDC-4193; seeFanfare IV:5, pp. 60-61). But that disc is hard to locate, and I think that the Pro Arte, with the impressive Howard Karp as pianist, could do an even better job.

Having heard them in so much Bloch, I was interested to observe how the group approaches a different kind of music altogether — in this case, a recent American string quartet in a serial style — perhaps the style that most listeners shun more than any other. Many who followed the contemporary music scene from the 1950s through the 70s feel that they had enough of this kind of thing rammed down their throats to last a lifetime. But those who concluded that the serial style is inherently bankrupt artistically should hear Fred Lerdahl’s String Quartet No. 2, completed in 1982. It is a highly complex work, quite demanding of both performers and listeners, but by no means incomprehensible — even on first hearing. Like some. of the recent efforts of Wuorinen and others, it represents a significant advance toward the development of an expressively versatile serial language. This is a real maturation, by comparison with the ungainly lurching and hysterical spasms of horror and dread that became clichés of the early serialists, followed by the reams of worthless busywork, intellectually ostentatious and artistically barren, that poured forth from American universities later on, accompanied by arrogant, defensive, and petulant posturing. Nor has Lerdahl joined those renegades who have compromised with candy-coated sound effects and evocative titles, in an attempt to graft on a cheap semblance of “romantic” sensibility.

Lerdahl embraces the post-Schoenbergian vocabulary of sounds, without either apology or dogma, creating a work that is as straightforward as a piece by Brahms, concerned with what it has to say, not with grinding an axe. Once one has been drawn into its unfolding, the experience becomes fascinating, as recurrent patterns and moments of tonal or rhythmic stability serve as points of reference. One is struck by the sophistication with which Lerdahl handles his material, so that one feels that the music sounds exactly as he means it to sound at all times, while an over-arching musical concept lends a sense of direction, purpose, and shape. There is certainly more to this work than one can grasp in a few hearings, and I am not yet sure just what Lerdahl is trying to say, but by the time it is through, one is disposed to delve into it more deeply, which is, after all, one of the most important considerations with any new piece.

The Pro Arte Quartet performs Lerdahl’s work with a brilliance and vigor that cut right through to its heart, so that every detail seems to have a reason for being there. It is an exemplary performance, demonstrating just what can be done with music like this. Lerdahl himself writes, “I never dreamed the Quartet would perform my piece so magnificently, right from the beginning…. Working with the Pro Arte was … almost as satisfying as composing the piece in the first place.” What can I add to that?

Only that the sound quality and disc production are extraordinarily fine. If I have a complaint, it is that the liner notes could be more informative about the Bloch Quintet and about Lerdah himself.

BLOCH: String Ouartet No. 2. Prelude. Night. Two Pieces.

BLOCH: String Ouartet No. 2. Prelude. Night. Two Pieces. Pro Arte String Quartet. LAUREL LR-126, produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert, $9.98.

In his brilliant essay, “Ferruccio Busoni: Historia Abscondita” (Fanfare VII: 3), Adrian Corleonis describes Busoni’s concept of “unity of key,” through which he circumvented the cul de sac of an over-systematized notion of tonal relationships that permeated the Austro-Germanic musical mentality like a religious obsession. Busoni’s “unity of key” was an alternative to the theoretical strait-jacket that soon led to serialism, which was embraced as scripture by those compelled to substitute one dogma for another. But, as Corleonis admits, Busoni was one of many composers during this period who had the courage and independence of mind to explore the opportunity for a new tonal freedom. Scriabin, Sibelius, Nielsen, Vaughan Williams, and many others — in addition to the obvious example of Debussy — all found their own individual ways around the tonality “problem,” exposing exciting possibilities rather than extinguishing them.

Ernest Bloch arrived on the scene at a time when the innovations of Debussy and Strauss (it is fashionable today to minimize the radical side of Strauss) were in the air. Drawing from them and from his own turbulently emotional Jewish temperament, he forged a highly articulate language in which the perennial polar balance between Dionysian abandon and Apollonian control achieved an unprecedented expressive tension. Bloch, perhaps less intellectually sophisticated than a Busoni, but musically cosmopolitan by instinct, plunged into the theoretical maelstrom without inhibition and seized the new tonal freedom with bold confidence, relying only on his own artistry and craftsmanship. It is in this, the development of a true musical “expressionism,” that Bloch’s greatest aesthetic contribution lies.

The Quartet No. 2 (1946) is the finest of Bloch’s five essays in the medium, joining the Violin Sonata No. 1 (1920) and the Piano Quintet No. 1 (1923) as his most important chamber music. In comparison with the two earlier works, however, the quartet reveals a higher level of compositional maturity. The previous tendency toward rhetorical extravagance is now distilled into tighter, more concentrated structural designs, with no sacrifice of emotional intensity. The work begins with a mysterious contemplation for unaccompanied violin, unstable both rhythmically and tonally. As this soliloquy is gradually answered contrapuntally by the remaining voices, a mood is set for the exploration of unknown spiritual territory — a mood, I might add, that reminds me strikingly of Vaughan Williams’ Flos Campi, although I may be alone in this perhaps strange association. (I have often reflected on the strong — if somewhat unlikely — parallel between these two composers.) By the time the last movement, a brilliant passacaglia and fugue, has reached its culmination, the forces of aberration and the forces of rationalism have achieved a partial reconciliation.

This new recording appeared too late to be included in the review of the Portland Quartet’s complete traversal of the Bloch string quartets (Arabesque 6511-3; seeFanfare VII: 4). The performance by the Pro Arte takes its place alongside their recent recording of the Quartet No. 1 (Laurel LR-120), setting a new standard in the interpretation of Bloch’s music. This group displays the kind of cohesive comprehension of the composer’s conception and the ability to realize that conception in sound that creates a performance tradition against which subsequent renditions must be compared. Hearing the Pro Arte Quartet play this music is hearing it for the first time. The recent Portland/Arabesque set is, sadly, a wasted effort. I only hope that the public response to these Laurel discs will be sufficient to stimulate the completion of the cycle by this extraordinary group of musicians.

As highly desirable bonuses, several miniatures for string quartet are also included on this disc. Each is finely wrought and representative of the spirit of Bloch’s major works. In fact, each could easily have served as a movement of a larger work, but for some reason or other was left alone. The Prelude (1925) is a beautifully simple, modal elegy. Night, composed during the same year and once available on a 78-rpm disc, is a typically Blochian nocturnal mood-sketch. TheTwo Pieces, one of which dates from 1938 and the other from 1950, function together as a sort of prelude and scherzo, somewhat more abstract in tone than the earlier pieces.

The sound quality of the recording is superb, with a natural sonic ambience, which is typical of the best Laurel discs. Surfaces are fine. 

BLOCH: Sonata Nos.1 and 2 for Violin and Piano. String Quartet No. 1. Suite for Viola and Piano. Schelomo. WALTON: Cello Concerto. R. STRAUSS: Violin Sonata.

An Ernest Bloch Update

BLOCH: Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano. R. STRAUSS: Sonata in E-Flat for Violin and PianoOp. 18. Elmar Oliveira, violin, Walter Ponce, piano. VOX CUM LAUDE D-VCL 9021 (digital), produced by Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz, $10.98.

BLOCH:  Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano. Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (Poème Mystique). Yukiko Kamei, violin; Irma Vallecillo, piano. LAUREL LR-121, produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert, $8.98.

BLOCH:  String Quartet No. 1. Pro Arte Quartet. LAUREL LR-120, produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert, $8.98 (available from: Laurel Records, 2451 Nichols Canyon, Los Angeles, California 90046).

BLOCH: Suite for Viola and Piano. HINDEMITH Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 25, no. 4. Yizhak Schotten, viola; Katherine Collier, piano. CRI RECORDS SD-450, produced by Carter Harman, $8.95.

BLOCH:  Schelomo. WALTON: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Gregor Piatigorsky, cello; Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch. RCA GOLD SEAL AGL1-4086, $5.98. 

This season has seen the appearance of several fine discs devoted to the music of Ernest Bloch. These, along with other recent recordings that have been discussed in these pages (see especially Fanfare IV:5, pp. 60-61), suggest that musicians have finally begun to look beyond the familiar attractions of Schelomo and the Concerto Grosso No. 1 end delve into Bitch’s challenging and rewarding body of chamber music — especially those landmark works composed between 1915 and 1924, the period represented by these recordings. After the appearance of so many discs that offer nothing beyond the right notes, it is encouraging to note that players are also beginning to comprehend the expressive possibilities of this music and approach it with the emotional commitment that it demands. Most of Bloch’s works from this period — including Schelomo — carry a rather explicit metaphysical program. Using as a point of departure the formal and stylistic parameters inherited from the Franck/Chausson/Debussy tradition in which he developed, Bloch imbued his music with intensely bitter philosophical visions, attempting to depict such dynamics as the destructive forces of mankind, raging against the eternal serenity of nature, the escape from materialism into spiritual contemplation, the futility and vanity of idealism, etc. The use of music as a vehicle for such personal philosophical statements is not as common as one might think, although, interestingly, this trait was shared by Scriabin; literary, dramatic, and historical programs are far more frequently encountered. Of course, such content runs counter to several of today’s artistic taboos: against public confessions, against unrestrained emotional display, as well as against verbalizing musical meaning — especially of a personal nature. Around the turn of the century such uninhibited rhetoric was more acceptable, and Bloch, himself a fervent, passionate fellow, did not hesitate to provide verbal interpretations of his works, or to sanction the attempts of others to try their hands. In some cases, as in Alex Cohen’s notorious commentary on the Violin Sonata No. 1, the results were rather extravagant. (“Bloch saw in this terrible march … a barbaric procession with mounted elephants trampling to death a crowd of prostrate bodies — scapegoats doomed to die in a mass atonement, to lay the ghost of en obsession end propitiate some imagined spirit, in order that life might be safe for the survivors . . . .”) But it is partly a testament to the unequivocal content of Bloch’s music, and to his eloquence in realizing it, that such commentaries strike the listener as wholly accurate, florid though the verbiage may be. The purpose of these interpretations was to help listeners to penetrate the surface of this music, whose brutal ferocity was quite overwhelming at the time. Today many may find the descriptions superfluous. In any case. the music must succeed or fail by dint of its own merits. But with a little indulgence for a tendency toward loose, expansive structures common to early 20th-century romanticism, one will discover some of the most powerful and deeply, moving works of the chamber music literature.

Of particular interest here are 2 important new recordings of the Violin Sonata No. 1, one of Bloch’s greatest works. (For comments on previous recordings of this sonata, see Fanfare III:4, pp. 63-65; V:5, p. 269.) Vox Cum Laude presents a digital recording (also released on cassette) that features Elmer Oliveira, a dazzling younger virtuoso who has demonstrated consummate artistry in a wide variety of styles. Laurel, a small, independent-minded company based in Los Angeles, introduces the young Japanese violinist Yukiko Kamai, a former student, and, later, assistant of Jascha Heifetz (Heifetz, of course, has made definitive recordings of the Bloch sonatas, available now only as part of a 4-record set. RCA ARM4-0947.) In previous performances coincidentally, Oliveira has impressed me with a technical mastery and visceral gusto suggestive of Heifetz. Thus, in listening to this recording, I was a little surprised and disappointed to encounter a detached refinement more akin to the playing, say, of Arthur Grumiaux. But we are not dealing with Saint-Saens’ Rondo Capriccioso here. You do not play the Bloch Sonata No. 1 to show how refined you are. You play this piece because you believe in it, or you leave it alone. Indeed, the playing is superbly patrician: Challenging technical passages are dispensed with an aloof calm; there is not an uncontrolled note, nor an ugly one — and this is very difficult music. But there is ugliness in it that must be conveyed. Oliveira is a bit too tight, too controlled, insufficiently expansive. And, as if to disprove everything that has been said about digital recording, the sound quality on this disc is rather distant and diffuse. I am no advocate of “concert-hall perspective” in recording, especially not for chamber music. In this case, it only compounds the frustrating detachment of the performance. Pianist Walter Ponce provides adequate, reasonably sensitive support, but the piano is miked and balanced in such a way that it sounds muffled, a problem that plagues virtually all recordings of this work.

Kamei, on the other hand, presents a very different type of performance. Though lacking the extraordinary tonal finesse of Oliveira, she seems to dig deeper into the work. Her tone is wiry and a little harsh, but she has full technical command and approaches the sonata with the necessary aggressiveness. The sound quality of this recording is also very different from the Vox: Here the violin ambience is very close — even too close, so that it sounds rather flat and two-dimensional. Then, too, the balance between violin and piano is not right — again the piano is muffled and distant. (If you think I’m being too fussy, listen to the CRI viola disc as an example of ideal string/piano balance.) In summary, let me emphasize that these are 2 very fine performances. While neither achieves perfection, each is a significant addition to the Bloch discography.

To its distinct advantage, this new Laurel release is the first single-disc pairing of the 2 Bloch sonatas since the workmanlike renditions of Rafael Druian and John Simms on Mercury from the mid 1950s. The Violin Sonata No. 2, “Poème Mystique,” was composed in 1924, four years after the Sonata No. 1. It is in one movement, much freer in form than its predecessor. Centered around a beautiful hymn containing both Christian and Jewish elements, the work offers an optimistic spiritual alternative to the pessimism of the First Sonata. While not as tight and concentrated as the earlier work, the “Poème Mystique” is passionate in its idealism, and quite lovely. Kamei and Vallecillo provide an excellent performance, superior to the warmly heartfelt but technically uncertain rendition by Michael Davis and Nelson Harper on Orion.

Laurel has slowly been building a reputation among connoisseurs as one of the most discriminating and imaginative smaller record companies around. Under the uncompromising guidance of Herschel Burke Gilbert, Laurel has tried to fill important gaps in it the recorded repertoire with outstanding recordings of authoritative performances. Although many small companies have tried this sort of thing, few have shown the painstaking concern for musical values that Laurel has demonstrated. Among the projects in progress are Robert Muczynski’s traversal of his substantial piano output, the string quartets of Szymenowski, and, with this initial entry, the 5 string quartets of Ernest Bloch, performed by the Pro Arte Quartet (in residence at the University of Wisconsin). This will be the first complete recording of the quartets, as the London set by the Griller Quartet (LLA-23) was released before the composition of the Fifth Quartet in 1956. On the evidence offered in this initial effort, Bloch enthusiasts have much pleasure ahead, as this recording of the Quartet No. 1 — the first in some 27 years — sets a new standard for the repertoire.

The Quartet No. 1 was completed in 1916, shortly after Schelomo, with which it shares a thematic motif. It is long — nearly an hour — very ambitious, and uncompromisingly serious in tone. The long-lived Bloch was not a terribly precocious composer; although he was 36 when he completed this quartet, it reveals traces of apprenticeship absent, however, from Schelomo. While reflecting the spiritual and philosophical vision of ferocious savagery and bitter despair found in the other works of this period, the quartet also reveals clearly its lineage from the Franco-Belgian tradition mentioned earlier. Not only does its whole-hearted adoption of cyclical procedures suggest its links to the Franck group, but moreso, its approach to quartet sonority ties it closely to the Debussy quartet. It is interesting to observe the Frenchman’s magical timbral blends wrenched and twisted to serve Bloch’s very different and highly individual temperamental needs. Certainly these fascinating connections to its stylistic roots are not to the detriment of the work. However, its excessive length suggests a degree of formal uncertainty; one detects a lack of confidence that one will get the message the first time, so that points are made more fully and explicitly than necessary. There is, nevertheless, much to appreciate in this work, especially in the performance we are offered on this disc. The Pro Arte group emphasizes the quartet’s dramatic intensity to the utmost, bringing to it the necessary physical power and incisiveness. The recording captures a dynamic range that is extraordinarily impressive. This is a milestone recording of an important work, whetting one’s appetite for the next installment: The Second Quartet is probably the greatest of the 5.

Bloch is one of those composers who demonstrated a mastery of orchestral color from his earliest serious efforts — witness the brilliance of Schelomo in this regard. Conversely, his writing for the piano remained consistently awkward throughout his career. Even as fine a work as the 1935 piano sonata, though a powerful piece of music, does not use the resources of the instrument to best effect. Indeed, virtually all of Bloch’s keyboard writing sounds like orchestral music reduced for simulation on piano: Tremolo effects, tightly-voiced dissonances, mysterious murmurs beg the imagination to translate them into their appropriate garb. This is revealed clearly by a comparison between the Suite for Viola and Piano and the orchestrated version that Bloch completed soon afterward. Composed shortly before the First Violin Sonata, the Viola Suite is more loosely structured (as its title suggests), though again its mood is similar to that of the sonata and the First Quartet. More exotically colored than the other 2 works, it has many beautiful moments, conjuring an imagery both mysterious and remote. The opening, in particular, is one of Bloch’s most haunting passages. But as the work unfolds, it seems to lose its focus somewhat, its substance thinning cut disappointingly. Failing to fulfill its obviously ambitious intentions, it occupies a slightly lesser position among Bloch’s works from this period. Violist Yizhak Schotten and pianist Katherine Collier offer as magnificent a performance of the work as I have ever heard. An excellent partnership, they are technically impeccable and sensitive to every nuance. And, as mentioned earlier, the quality of the recording is extremely good, with a superb instrumental balance and sonic ambience. Yet I am afraid I must recommend this work in the orchestral version on Tumabout TV-S 34622 (with an excellent performance of Schemolo on the other side), although Milton Katims’ viola playing is nowhere near as fine as Schotten’s. (Actually, I would love to see Schotten record the orchestral version.) In Bloch’s case, the orchestra reveals an implicit aesthetic dimension that remains dormant in the piano version — something that is riot true for all composers.

There is certainly no paucity d tine recordings of Schemolo As magnificent a work as it is, though, its popularity has discouraged lazy conductors from exploring other equally fine, if less well-known works of Bloch. In fact, with tongue partly in cheek, the Ernest Bloch Society recently urged a moratorium on performances ofSchelomo, so that other works might get some attention. (On that note, I would nominate for resurrection the brilliant 1937 orchestral suite Evocations, the demonic Scherzo Fantasque for piano and orchestra, and the 1903 Symphony in C-sharp minor, which prompted Romain Rolland to write. “I do not know any work in which a richer, more vigorous, more passionate temperament makes itself felt.”) The best recorded performance of Schelomo features Rostropovich, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the French National Radio Orchestra (Angel S-37256). The Piatigorsky performance is excellent, though, with surprisingly good sound quality, considering that it is 25 years old. There are several other fine, moderately priced recordings as well: Laszlo Varga  on Turnabout (mentioned above) and Pierre Fournier on DG Privilege (2535201).

To deal briefly with the companion pieces: Yizhak Schotten and Katherine Collier offer a meticulous, well-disciplined performance of Hindemith’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 25, No. 4, but the piece just bustles around and goes nowhere.

Elmar Oliveira’s pairing for the Bloch Sonata No. 1 is Strauss’ Sonata for Violin and Piano. It is one of the last works in his early, classically oriented style, written in 1887-88, about the time he began the cycle of tone poems. Like most of Strauss’ music from this period, the sonata is composed with great technical skill, but its content is quite superficial. It has its nice moments, and Oliveira and Ponce play it beautifully, but it is an inflated, garrulous work, devoid of all the deeper values so important to Bloch. There are a couple of peripheral annoyances about this new release worth mentioning: For one, the cover design subordinates the music to the performers in a particularly blatant manner. Moreover, Peter Eliot Stone’s liner notes lavish an inordinate amount of analytical commentary on the Strauss, while padding a cursory description of the Bloch with a disorganized array of irrelevant details, although the Strauss is the less important work from every conceivable perspective.

Gregor Piatigorsky recorded the Walton concerto in 1957, 3 days after he introduced the work. It is a mellifluous piece, more memorable thematically than Walton’s concertos for violin or viola. There is a trace of Korngold’s Hollywood style that runs through the attractive, if loosely structured, piece. Piatigorsky and the Boston Symphony do an excellent job with it, making this a worthwhile reissue.

BLOCH: String Quartets: No. 2. No. 3; No. 4. Prelude. Night Two Pieces. Paysages. In the Mountains.

BLOCH: String Quartet No. 2. Prelude. Night Two Pieces. Pro Arte Quartet. LAUREL LR-826CD (compact disc [ADD]; 53:41), produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert.

BLOCH: String Quartets: No. 3; No. 4. Paysages. In the Mountains. Pro Arte Quartet. LAUREL LR-841CD (compact disc [DDD]; 69:37), produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert [available from: Laurel Record, 2451 Nichols Canyon, Los Angeles, CA 90046-17981.

With these two new releases, Laurel — perhaps America’s most elite small record company — enters the CD market with a continuation of its highly touted cycle of Bloch chamber music. The recording of the Quartet No. 2 was originally issued as an LP in 1984, and received high praise from many quarters, including Fanfare. where it appeared on several Want Lists. Describing the Pro Arte renditions of both Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Fanfare 7:5, pp. 156-57), I wrote, “This group displays the kind of cohesive comprehension of the composer’s conception and the ability to realize that conception in sound that creates a performance tradition against which subsequent renditions must be compared. Hearing the Pro Arte Quartet play this music is hearing it for the first time.”

Like his five symphonies, Bloch’s quartets were spaced quite unevenly throughout his creative lifespan, the final three entries (in each genre) appearing during the composer’s incredible fertile final decade. In the case of the quartets, No. 2, though completed when the composer was 66, occupies a stylistic middleground between the expansive rhetoric of the First Quartet and the tight concentration of the final three. Perhaps because of this, I find it the most fully satisfying of thequartets and would place it among the handful of Bloch’s greatest works, as it captures both the grim harshness and the noble idealism of the composer’s spiritual vision at its most eloquent. while representing his compositional mastery at full maturity. In view of the peerless performance offered here, the release must be considered an indispensable document of 20th-century chamber music at its best.

Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 are somewhat more difficult to conceptualize than their predecessors. although their actual musical language is no less accessible. One still encounters the bold, savage intensity, balanced by mysterious excursions to exotic oases of eerie serenity. Yet, as in most of Bloch’s works from the 1950s, there is a shift in the direction of greater abstraction and concentration, entailing a retreat from the extravagant rhetoric of his earlier works — fewer grand lyrical surges, fewer obvious climactic releases, a phraseology that is more motivic than thematic. (Commenting on the Third Quartet, the composer himself said. “It is quite natural that a man of 72 does not react and feel as he did at 20, 30, 40, and 50.”) The familiar inner dynamics remain, but are built implicitly into every phrase, instead of being conveyed through broad, theatrical gestures. The result in each case is a rather austere, controlled distillation of Bloch’s metaphysical essence. surprisingly slow to impress itself on the consciousness of the casual listener, who is likely to find such works uniformly harsh, grim, and undifferentiated.

However, while the Third and Fourth Quartets may create a similar impression, stylistic and structural differences do become apparent with greater familiarity. Quartet No. 3, composed in 1952, evokes a somewhat neo-Baroque quality, stemming from the metrical regularity and contrapuntal clarity found also in the roughly contemporaneous Concerto Grosso No. 2 and the Piano Quintet No. 2. Quartet No. 4, on the other hand, completed a year or two later. is somewhat more irregular in phraseology, and is a stranger, more intuitive work. In the case of both works, more intensive attentive exposure increasingly brings a greater sense of their richness and depth of expression as well as an awareness of their kinship with Bloch’s better-known compositions.

The Pro Arte Quartet exerts itself mightily to project these quartets with conviction. offering readings of tremendous vigor and vehemence. Though their incisiveness and emotional intensity leave all rival versions behind, their margin of superiority is not quite as wide as in the case of their previous Bloch recordings. One misses moments of warmth and tenderness captured in other recordings, such as the generally less adequate Portland Quartet set (Arabesque 6511-3; see Fanfare 7:4, pp. 134-36). There is an unremittingly harsh, cold, wiry quality to the Pro Arte performances that can feel quite severe over extended listening periods.  

The fact that previous Pro Arte/Bloch performances have not been nearly this extreme suggests that the recording itself may be significantly responsible. This suspicion is supported by a direct comparison of the two CDs under review here, one originally recorded with analog technology, the other recorded digitally: the latter is far more harsh. Producer Gilbert is obviously aware of this difference, providing some rather candid and unequivocal comments in the program booklet of the ADD release only: “. . . if the music is recorded both analog and digital at the same time. and if the predominant sound is of strings, . . . compact discs made from the analog recordings will sound warmer and more true to the string sound than the digital recording, which gives the strings a thinner, ‘tinnier’. more sterile sound.” In general, my own experience confirms this distinction, but I have never heard it demonstrated in such extreme fashion, and I have encountered some fine-sounding DDD recordings of strings.

Not to be overlooked is the opportunity provided by these two CDs to become acquainted with all nine of Bloch’s miniatures for string quartet. Bloch wrote quite a few brief character pieces; some have been collected into groups (e.g. Visions and Prophecies. Five Sketches in Sepia — both for piano solo), while others have remained simply as miscellany. However, since his compositional identity has tended to rest on larger-scale works, few of these miniatures have ever drawn much attention. But many are little gems — atmospheric mood-sketches reflecting the same visionary qualities and brilliant craftsmanship found in the larger, more substantial works. Of the string-quartet miniatures, all but the Two Pieces (1938; 1950) date from 1925. Bloch’s other most fertile period; almost all are of the highest caliber and worthy of acquaintance. Paysages consists of three exotic vignettes; In the mountains presents two contrasting images. Most create the impressions of dark, nocturnal mystery found often among Bloch’s works; they are conjured as effectively in these little pieces as anywhere else. They arc performed on these recordings with all the probing conviction customarily afforded to acknowledged masterpieces.  

A Muczynski Retrospective

Robert Muczynski is, along with Lee Hoiby, one of America’s most distinguished traditionalist composers still active today, from the generation that came of age during the years following World War II. He is also one of the most widely and frequently performed, although his name rarely appears in discussions of important American composers of the time. The reasons for this have much to do with musical politics, fashion, and geography, and little to do with quality or merit. Born in Chicago in 1929, he studied piano and composition at DePaul University with Alexander Tcherepnin, who was his most significant mentor. Muczynski pursued a career as a composer-pianist, becoming a persuasive exponent of his own music. During the 1960s he moved to Tucson, joining the faculty of the University of Arizona as composer-in-residence. He held this position until his retirement in 1988.

The three new CDs to be discussed here, which happened to arrive during the same week, present fully one third of Muczynski’s entire output, and span the years 1953 through 1994. Hence they provide an ideal opportunity for an overview of the composer’s oeuvre, while enabling the listener toverify the summary remarks that follow. The two Laurel discs reissue most of the contents of three enthusiastically received LPs released by the company during the early 1980s, while presenting a couple of additional pieces never before recorded. The Hungaroton release is brand new, featuring three works, one of which overlaps the Laurel material, another of which is also available in a different performance on Centaur, and the third of which is new to CD (but was included on yet another Laurel LP). (To round out the most important discographical information: An entire CD devoted to Muczynski’s music featuring the flute is included in Naxos’s American Classics series [reviewed in Fanfare 22:4].)

Muczynski has concentrated his compositional efforts on works for solo piano and pieces for small chamber combinations. His music exemplifies mid-20th-century American neoclassicism, tempered by a romantic sense of mood and affect. One might identify its underlying stylistic currents with reference to the phraseology of Bartók, the harmonic language and overall rhetoric found in the piano works of Barber, a fondness for 5- and 7-beat meters reminiscent of Bernstein, and a piquant sprinkling of “blue-notes” within its melodic structures. The music is modest, soft-spoken, earnest, and unpretentious in character, and is developed according to techniques that are thoroughly traditional—some might say conventional. The result is a friendly modernism—tonal but not reactionary, peppered with light dissonance and energetic asymmetries of rhythm—always expertly tailored to highlight the artistry of the performer in a manner idiomatic to the featured instrument. It is not hard to understand why his pieces have been favored by music teachers and are often used as test-pieces in competitions. Indeed, music like this is easy to patronize—or would be, if it weren’t for what might be termed its essential honesty. Without ostentation, pretense, or much alteration of his basic style, Muczynski has produced piece after piece of authentic musical expression, without hiding behind any of the compositional smokescreens to which so many composers resort. I am not referring only to the modernist smokescreens of technical complexity, originality, and pseudo-profound obfuscation; Muczynski also avoids empty virtuosity, grandiosity, overpowering emotionalism, opulent sonority, and eccentricity—the kinds of smokescreens to which more conservative composers fall victim in their weaker moments. Muczynski’s pieces tend to be short because his music is pure substance—nothing but the aesthetic basics: straightforward yet distinctive themes and motifs, woven into clear, transparent textures, developed logically but imaginatively into concise, satisfying, compelling formal entities.

The two Laurel discs are largely devoted to Muczynski’s music for piano solo (although a few such pieces are still unrecorded), with the addition of three pieces featuring flute and clarinet. The two discs present the music chronologically, the first extending through the late 1960s, the second starting with 1970. The fourteen pieces thus included comprise several extended works: the three sonatas for piano, the flute sonata, and Time Pieces for clarinet and piano; most of the remainder consists of short character-pieces,  averaging a minute-plus in duration. Obviously one of Muczynski’s favorite genres, naturally suited to his compositional personality, such short vignettes have reappeared throughout his creative life.

What may be observed from such an overview is how steadfastly Muczynski has held to a relatively narrow creative range, and how little his musical language has evolved over the course of four decades. But what is most remarkable is—despite those two generalizations—how consistently high is the quality of this music with regard to its thematic material, its expressive content, and its workmanship. In fact, after having been familiar with most of these pieces for almost twenty years, I find virtually nothing—not even the simple duos for flute and clarinet—less than fully realized.

Muczynski’s three piano sonatas date from 1957, 1966, and 1974, respectively. No. 2 is perhaps the most ambitious in scope and was the first to attract my attention. A vigorously virtuosic work in four movements, it bears a striking resemblance to Samuel Barber’s notable contribution to the genre, which may, however, temper the enthusiasm of some listeners. Sonata No. 1 was written for the pianist-composer’s Carnegie Recital Hall debut in 1958, and bears a dedication to Tcherepnin. In preparing this review I was struck anew by the dark, dramatic moodiness of the first of its two movements—a magnificent example of modern romanticism at its best. My only complaint is that the contrasting second movement is a little glib in its dismissal of the weighty concerns that immediately precede it. The Third Sonata is similar to its two predecessors in style and tone, if perhaps a bit less dramatic in content and more refined in execution.

Muczynski composed his Sonata for Flute and Piano in 1961, and it is probably his most well-known and frequently-performed work. A staple of the repertoire, it is familiar to all players advanced enough to attempt it. Varied in expression and expertly crafted, it is as enjoyable and satisfying to hear as it is to play.

Much the same may be said about Time Pieces, a 16-minute work in four movements for clarinet and piano, commissioned in 1984 by Mitchell Lurie, who plays it on this recording. This is the piece that overlaps the Hungarian recording, and is well on the way to establishing itself in the clarinet repertoire. Despite its enigmatic title, the work is essentially similar in structure to those identified as sonatas.

I will not attempt to describe the groups of character pieces—the PreludesSuiteA Summer JournalSeven, and the Maverick Pieces—individually. Music of this nature is difficult to describe verbally, beyond the foregoing general comments. I will add only that, although Muczynski’s style has evolved little over the years—perhaps moving from more overt reference to his musical models to a broader, freer expressive palette—the music continues to sound fresh and imaginative, with little sense of redundancy.

The Laurel set also includes a three-minute Toccata, a demanding, relatively harsh, bracing study in perpetual motion, recorded by the composer shortly after he wrote it in 1962. The other novelty is the debut recording of one of Muczynski’s most recent works: Desperate Measures, a set of twelve variations on “that” theme of Paganini, composed in 1994. Talk about the possibility of redundancy! But no—Muczynski takes a decidedly “fun” approach, with a series of witty, almost jazzy, takes on the venerable tune. I expect that once the word on this piece gets out, it will be another “hit.”

Throughout these recordings, Muczynski represents his music advantageously, with pianism marked by fluency, sensitivity, and subtlety. Nevertheless, it does him no disservice to point out that, rather than being definitive renditions, his readings serve more as enticing and informative approximations, which whet the appetite of the adventurous, creative virtuoso by drawing attention to music that might otherwise be overlooked and suggesting the artistic potential inherent within it.

Turning now to the Hungaroton release—the Trio d’Echo is a relatively young ensemble based in Budapest. Comprising clarinet, cello, and piano, the Trio addresses Muczynski’s Fantasy Trio, scored for that combination, as well as his two respective duos featuring clarinet and cello, each with piano. Fantasy Trio, dating from 1969, is an infectious work, grabbing the listener’s attention immediately with its grippingly assertive opening, and maintaining it throughout. A performance featuring the Mühlfeld Trio was released on a Laurel LP in 1983, but has not been reissued on CD. That reading boasted tremendous vigor and spunk, in addition to precision; the Trio d’Echo’s, on the other hand, is smoother and more polished, but a little cautious and deliberate.

The same distinction applies with regard to the Time Pieces. Clarinetist András Horn and pianist Gábor Eckhardt offer a polished reading that borders on the antiseptic, while Mitchell Lurie and the composer take chances that result in a more exciting experience.

Muczynski’s four-movement Sonata for Cello and Piano, composed in 1968, is possibly his masterpiece. While aesthetically consistent with all his other works, it seems to aim for a deeper, more probing level of expression. Its opening movement, a theme with variations, reveals a somber bleakness that reminds one of Vaughan Williams’s great Flos Campi, while its slow movement develops an austere lyricism to impressively eloquent heights. The two fast movements provide compelling contrast, with a grim and energetic sense of determination. Cellist György Déri offers a solidly convincing reading, but mention must also be made of an extraordinary performance that can be found on Centaur CRC-2300, featuring cellist Carter Enyeart and pianist Adam Wodnicki. These two U.S.-based artists offer a reading of unerring precision and blistering intensity. I cannot resist quoting from commentator Laurie Shulman’s perceptive notes accompanying that recording: “The [first-movement] theme’s recurrence in the finale is only one manifestation of the organic logic that permeates this piece. [Muczynski’s] writing is well-crafted without being pedantic…. Perhaps [his] greatest achievement in this sonata is the immense respect he accords to traditional form and harmony, without sounding conservative…. Defying the serialist pundits who dominated American music in the 1960s, Muczynski showed in this work that there is indeed something new under the sun.”

As musicians continue to discover, perform, and record the fine music of Robert Muczynski, attention is directed to his three piano trios and a string trio, all of which are among his strongest works. They are most-needed candidates for recording.

The Hungaroton release also includes a work by Balazs Szunyogh, a Hungarian student of Petrovics and Kurtag who died two years ago while in his mid-40s. His Trio Serenade (1978) for clarinet, cello, and piano is a pleasant piece with quasi-minimalist devices. Its simple surface conceals some subtle intricacies.

MUCZYNSKI Six Preludes, op. 6. Piano Sonata No. 1, op. 9. Suite, op. 13. Sonata for Flute and Piano, op. 14. Toccataop.15. A Summer Journal, op. 19. Piano Sonata No. 2, op. 22 – Robert Muczynski (pn); Julius Baker (fl)– LAUREL LR-862 (67:40)

MUCZYNSKI Seven, op. 30. Six Duos, op. 34. Piano Sonata No. 3, op. 35. Twelve Maverick Pieces, op. 37. Masks, op. 40. Time Pieces, op. 43. Desperate Measures, op. 48 – Robert Muczynski (pn); Julius Baker (fl); Mitchell Lurie (cl) – LAUREL LR-863 (75:08)

MUCZYNSKI Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 25. Fantasy Trio, op. 26. Time Pieces, op. 43. SZUNYOGH Trio Serenade – György Déri (vc); András Horn (cl); Gábor Eckhardt (pn) – HUNGAROTON HCD-31877 (65:30)

Flute Moments. MUCZYNSKI: Moments for Flute and Piano. Preludes for Flute Solo. L. LIEBERMANN: Flute Sonata. E. BURTON: Flute Sonatina. FOOTE: Three Pieces. SCHWANTNER: Soaring. HOOVER: Kokopeli. J. A. LENNON: Echolalia.

FLUTE MOMENTS – Teresa Beaman (fl); Jane Davis Maldonado, Andreas Werz (pns) – LAUREL LR-857CD (68:11)

MUCZYNSKI Moments for Flute and Piano. Preludes for Flute Solo. L. LIEBERMANN Flute Sonata. E. BURTON Flute Sonatina. FOOTE Three Pieces. SCHWANTNER Soaring. HOOVER Kokopeli. J. A. LENNON Echolalia. LA BERGE revamper

This is one of those collections featuring unknown performers playing 20th-century chamber music — in this case, a hundred years of American music for flute solo or with piano — that one assumes will attract little notice. However, a percentage of such releases really warrant attention — either because the playing is really fine, or because the program offers some important music, or both. In the case of this new release, the latter applies, because among this miscellany of nine pieces are three substantial items, each of which illustrates its own individual brand of neoclassicism. Of them, Muczynski’s Moments is a first recording, as far as I know.

Formerly chairman of the composition department of the University of Arizona at Tucson, Robert Muczynski (b. 1929) has produced a formidable body of music — primarily for piano solo and small chamber combinations — notable for its consistently fine workmanship and impeccable taste, its sincere and authentic musicality, and its modest but appealing and clearly defined character. Perhaps because of the absence of any sort of sensationalism or high-profile exposure surrounding his music, Muczynski’s identity as a composer has not achieved the reputation warranted by the place held in the repertoire by a growing number of his works. Specifically, his respective sonatas for flute and for saxophone, a recent woodwind quintet, and a fair amount of his piano music are heard frequently — and increasingly so every year–in recitals throughout the country. Yet little attention is paid to his output as a whole, or to the compositional persona it represents.

Some significant recognition seemed be gathering momentum during the early 1980s, when Laurel released two LPs devoted to Muczynski’s piano music, performed by the composer himself. These recordings provided Paul Snook (Fanfare 4:5) with “ample evidence to support the suspicion that, during the past three decades, Muczynski has been turning out some of the most impressive traditional music for piano by any American since Barber.” But less than a handful of years later, the compact disc rendered LPs virtually obsolete, and Laurel’s small but meticulous catalog of recordings fell by the wayside. For whatever reason, Laurel has been very slow to reissue its treasures onto CD; for more than a decade the Muczynski piano recordings have lain dormant, and the opportunity for becoming acquainted with his music in any comprehensive, systematic fashion disappeared.

However, although this new recording does not include the popular Flute Sonata (recorded by Julius Baker and the composer for Laurel, also during the early 80s), it does offer the three brief Preludes for flute solo, composed in 1962. These are excellent studies in phrasing, without benefit of harmonic support, yet provide thoroughly pleasant listening as well.

Of considerably more interest, however, is the 1992 work that Muczynski has entitled Moments, the most recent of his compositions, I believe, to be recorded. A 12-minute piece in three movements, it has the basic “feel” of a sonata, although classical templates seem to be avoided. The work has all the Muczynski fingerprints — nifty kinetic rhythmic syncopations, a sort of sinister moodiness (the program annotator calls it “embittered,” which I think is a bit too strong), with a thoroughly-integrated “bluesy” flavor, and a phraseological symmetry somewhat reminiscent of Bartók. I suspect that Moments will achieve a foothold in the flute repertoire alongside the composer’s Sonata.

Also of considerable interest is the Sonata by Lowell Liebermann, a young New York-born and -trained composer, still in his 30s, whose traditionally constructed music has already attracted considerable attention during the past decade (see Fanfare21:1). His Flute Sonata was composed in 1987 and is quite a strong work, comprising just two movements. The opening Lento sustains a sober, intense, reflective mood throughout, without losing focus for a moment, while the Presto finale — only one-third the length of the opener–is brilliant, exciting, and technically challenging. Offering both musical substance and virtuoso acrobatics, Liebermann’s Sonata has already attracted a following among performers and seems destined to join the Muczynski as a key item in the American flute repertoire. My only reservation about the piece is that, as fine as it is, Liebermann seems always to be speaking through the voice of Prokofiev, rather than through his own, which I have yet to discern among the works of his that I have heard.

The Flute Sonatina of Eldin Burton represents an extreme example of the point made above in reference to Muczynski. Virtually all I know about Burton is that he was born in Georgia in 1913, spent much of his life in Florida, and died in 1985. But this 9-minute Sonatina, composed in 1946, is probably one of the three most frequently performed works in the American flute repertoire, and its popularity is easy to understand. From the first note, it provides a flattering showcase for the performer, while warmly enveloping the listener in music so irresistibly ingratiating that one can easily forgive the fact that its language seems wholly derived from those of Debussy and Fauré. But I continue to wonder: Who was Eldin Burton and what else did he compose?

The remaining works on the disc are less ambitious in scope and can be discussed briefly: Arthur Foote’s Three Pieces are the earliest music on the disc–very tasteful, refined examples of salon music, composed in 1892. Joseph Schwantner’s music is both appealing and instantly identifiable as his own; in less than two minuteshis 1986 Soaring effectively captures the image of a bird in flight. Katherine Hoover’sKokopeli for flute solo, dating from 1990, is a soliloquy that evokes the flute-playing musician from Hopi mythology. Born in Minnesota, Anne La Berge lives in Amsterdam; her 1992 revamper is not without musical value in its demonstration of several “extended” flute techniques, although conventional listeners may disagree. John Anthony Lennon’s Echolalia also reveals some concern with shape and line, although not enough to sustain interest for its 5½ minutes.

Teresa Beaman is a faculty member of California State University at Fresno, and appears to be an active figure in the world of flute-playing, as performer, teacher, and networker. Her playing is technically assured, and she offers polished interpretations within the varied array of musical styles represented on this most adventurous and rewarding recital program. The contribution by pianist Jane Davis Maldonado to the pieces by Muczynski, Burton, and Foote is excellent, while Andreas Werz lends fine support to the works by Schwantner and Liebermann.

Twentieth Century 4-Hand Piano Music. PERSICHETTI: Concerto for Piano, Four Hands. CORIGLIANO: Gazebo Dances. RIEGGER: The Cry. Evocation. G. LEVINSON: Morning Star. C. POLIN: Phantasmagoria. S. SHIFRIN: The Modern Temper. L. MOSS: Omaggio.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN 4-HAND PIANO MUSIC. Margret Elson, Elizabeth Swarthout, piano. LAUREL LR859CD [DDD]; 69:19. Produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert. PERSICHETTI: Concerto for Piano, Four Hands. CORIGLIANO: Gazebo Dances. RIEGGER: The Cry. Evocation. G. LEVINSON: Morning Star. C. POLIN: Phantasmagoria. S. SHIFRIN: The Modern Temper. L. MOSS: Omaggio.

Here is quite a mixed bag of four-hand music, despite the unified character suggested by the title. Pianist Elson’s program notes qualify the contents further, by stating, “American 20th-century culture is an urban culture, largely associated with the East Coast, and in particular, with New York.” What a glib, presumptuous, and highly debatable generalization, even to a lifelong New Yorker like me! I would expect non-New Yorkers to find it especially offensive, revealing quite a limited perspective on the part of the pianists. But let’s just dismiss it as a feeble attempt to find a unifying concept for the program, after the fact. What we have is a very varied program, ranging from the profound to the inconsequential.

The profound refers to Vincent Persichetti’s 1952 Concerto for Piano, Four Hands.Despite Laurel’s assertion of “CD Premiere,” this is actually the work’s second representation on the first featuring the Malinova Sisters on Koch International see Fanfare 19:5, pp. 233ff), and the fifth recording ever, as far as I know. The concerto is an enormously challenging work, not just because of its artistic complexity, but also because it seems further designed deliberately to pose technical problems particularly challenging to a four-hand team, such as– to name just one– the passage in the Coda in which 16th-notes interwoven in all four hands accelerate gradually from [16th] = 40 to [4th] = 144 over a span of approximately 30 measures. One could cite many more fascinating moments, as there is a virtually inexhaustible fund of meaningful expressive activity in this incredibly integrated tour de force of compositional exuberance. For comments on its previous recordings, see the review just cited. I would place Elson-Swarthout’s performance on a par with the Malinova Sisters: excellent, well-coordinated, technically adroit, expressively informed. The shortcoming shared by both renditions is made evident by comparing them with the first-ever recording, featuring Persichetti and his wife (Columbia ML-4989 — Will this performance ever be reissued? Surpassed by any other duo?).  Not only do the two truly play as one, but there are a few passages — the same ones, in fact — in which both the Malinovas and Elson-Swarthout seem to be laboring to achieve a precision of rhythmic articulation that emerges as effortlessly natural and spontaneous in the Persichetti performance. Both Elson-Swarthout and the Malinovas make valiant attempts, which must suffice for the moment. I know that a lot of music is described as indispensable in this magazine, but Persichetti’s Concerto for Piano, Four Hands really is.

The other music of some general interest are John Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances in their original piano, four hands version. (They have achieved some popularity in arrangements for both orchestra and concert band. The composer explains that these dances, composed in 1972, attempt to suggest the tradition of the outdoor band concerts that used to entertain townspeople during the summertime in the northeastern United States. The image may be somewhat Ivesian, but — as is so often true of Corigliano — the music most clearly calls to mind Samuel Barber, here in his Souvenirs mode that work was also originally written for piano, four hands), laced with touches of Leonard Bernstein. However, compared to Souvenirs, the Gazebo Dances are less arch coy, more bracingly straightforward. Like most of Corigliano, the music is sheer entertainment, although the slow movement has some touching moments. Elson and Swarthout perform the dances with expert artistry.
The short pieces that comprise the remainder of the disc unfortunately, of a lower order of interest. Not wholly without merit are the two pieces, originally composed for choreographic use during the early 1930s, by Wallingford Riegger. The Cry is said to suggest the spirit of “romanticism, is mysteriously Scriabinesque, depending on a harmonic language that highlights the whole-tone scale and augmented triads. Evocation supposedly evokes the spirit of “tragedy” and is much more aggressive and raucous — almost Bartokian in its chromaticism. Though effective in their ways, both pieces give the impression of experimental exercises, rather than serious expressions.

The remainder of the pieces all use, to one extent or another, the expanded piano techniques pioneered by Henry Cowell during the 1910s and 20s. Gerald Levinson is in his mid-forties and teaches at Swarthmore College. His 1989 Morning Star, appended with a quotation from the Book of Job, is a mysterious study in sonority that prominently displays the influence of Olivier Messiaen, Levinson’s teacher. Claire Polin, now 70, was a student of Persichetti in Philadelphia. Her 1990 Phantasmagoria uses a prepared piano, sounding something like a Yiddish John Cage. Seymour Shifrin’s The Modern Temper (1959 and Lawrence Moss’s Omaggio (1966) represent the academic mainstream of their time, offering the sort of serialist banging and twittering that has largely passed into oblivion.