BARBER Piano Sonata. Excursions. Nocturne. Marion BAUER Three Impressions, Op. 10. Pine-Trees, Op. 12, No. 3. Six Preludes, Op. 15 • Stephen Beus (pn) • ENDEAVOR CLASSICS END-1017 (57:22)
This is a recent release of more than passing interest. Although there is no shortage of recordings of Barber’s Piano Sonata, few of them really make a convincing statement of the work. Stephen Beus definitely does, and for that alone, the recording warrants attention. He also injects some blood and vitality into the Excursions, which usually sound anemic and overly fastidious. And the gorgeously Scriabinesque Nocturne he plays beautifully.
The CD is also noteworthy for its sampling of music by Marion Bauer (1882-1955), who, I learned, rather to my surprise, appears not to have been related to her near-contemporary Harold Bauer. Born in Washington State, she received a thorough musical training, and, in addition to composing, was active as an advocate of 20th-century music, a critic, and a writer of several respected texts on the subject. She taught on the faculty of New York University for many years, and elsewhere as well. The pieces on this recording date from the 1910s; I am sorry to report that they are not terribly interesting. Falling within the general category of Debussy-styled impressionism, the music offers little individual personality, although—following the opus numbers—each piece reaches out on its own a little further than the last; the more mature pieces are reasonably well-crafted within the rhetoric they inhabit. But her pieces are far overshadowed by, say, Barber’s highly nuanced and sophisticated Nocturne, which draws from much the same aesthetic; her pieces don’t even display the assurance or self-possession found in the roughly contemporaneous, Debussy-influenced piano pieces of Ernest Bloch. But since one encounters her name frequently in contemporary accounts of American musical life during the first half of the 20th century, it is interesting to hear what her own creative work sounds like. However, Stephen Beus’s muscular approach overpowers the material somewhat.