by Walter Simmons
ZAIMONT: A Calendar Set. Chansons Nobles et Sentimentales. Nocturne—La Fin de Siècle. Gary Steigerwalt, piano (in Calendar Set). Charles Bressler, tenor; Judith Lang Zaimont, piano (in Chansons and Nocturne). LEONARDA LPI-101, produced by Marnie Hall.
This is the second record to appear in the past couple of years devoted to the music of the young composer Judith Lang Zaimont. The previous record, Golden Crest ATH5051 (see Fanfare 11:2, p. 133), concentrated exclusively on vocal and choral pieces, and left me with the impression of a skillful practitioner of traditional styles, but one whose work lacked an individual profile or a sense of creative urgency.
Now a new company called Leonarda Productions offers as its first release some of Zaimont’s piano music, along with one more song cycle. These three works suggest that Zaimont is a serious artist, formidably endowed, and capable of a broad audience appeal. Her music is ingratiating and easily accessible, but sophisticated and refined as well.
A Calendar Set, a group of 12 piano preludes composed over the period 1972-78, begins to achieve the dominant presence that seemed to be missing from the other works. This is a nicely varied collection of diverse musical moods and images, each suggested by a particular month of the year. The piano writing is masterfully fluent and virtuosic, and the satisfying expressive variety is accomplished within a generally impressionistic textural and harmonic idiom, expanded by some gestures and sonorities of a more “modernistic” nature, all well integrated into the stylistic fabric. The moods and emotions range from delicate reflection through joyful exuberance, as might be expected from the source of inspiration. Two of the pieces are very clever quodlibets, and contribute to the overall charm. With some exposure a collection like this could have a wide range of applicability for piano recitals of many degrees of sophistication, and could win easy acceptance.
Gary Steigerwalt handles the formidable technical challenges of this music with considerable bravura. Yet I find his reading excessively brusque and impulsive; I suspect that there is more subtlety and grace to these preludes than he manages to project. Moreover, the sound of the piano is not particularly attractive—a bit dull and shallow in timbre.
Nocturne—La Fin de Siècle is a rhapsodic, improvisatory piece that evokes the spirit of what appears to be one of Ms. Zaimont’s favorite musical periods. Darkly introspective, for the most part, its ruminations tend to bog down somewhat, but the piece is too short for this to impair its effectiveness. The composer’s own performance underscores the work’s intimate, spontaneous quality.
Chansons Nobles et Sentimentales is a group of five settings, dated 1974, of poems by Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. Despite the overt identification with another time and place manifested here and in the previous work, these songs are by no means shamelessly derivative. While the musical settings are fully appropriate to the content as well as the atmosphere of the poetry, a tone of austerity restrains them from a whole-hearted effort at ersatz French Impressionism, although the austerity may at times be too severe for some. On the whole, these are fine songs in their own right, with sensitivity and a beauty that does not yield itself too quickly.
Charles Bressler offers intelligent, tasteful interpretations of the Chansons, but their more intense moments seem to overwhelm his fragile tenor, and disconcert his articulation of the French texts.
Sound quality of this new release is fair, but surfaces tend to be noisy. Texts and translations are included.