SOUNDS OF AMERICA
I N G
S C H O O L
V A L E R
P H O T O G R A P H Y
Yuriy Bekker: performing violin-and-piano works by Copland and Korngold second of two discs devoted to Bowles’s complete piano music features works that are modest in scope yet generous in charm, invention and pianistic ingenuity.
The opening selection, Night Waltz, runs rampant with slippery modulations, great yet fleeting tunes and counterpoint in all directions, while Nocturne’s dense chords convey a more austere impression. The titles of four short solo pieces written between 1933 and 1939 may have been inspired by Bowles’s literary tastes and exotic travels, but not their neo-classical, quasi-Poulencian musical content. At first, the three-movement Piano Sonatina seems to be a stylistic mongrel (Prokofiev meets ragtime? Bach meets Scriabin?), albeit one trained by a strong individual.
Like Copland, Bowles could adapt his style to tuneful and populist ends, as in the three Latin American pieces, yet he also also tossed down lean, craggy, uncompromisingly modernist gauntlets such as the 1947 Tamanar. Conversely, three short pieces arranged by the American piano duo Gold and Fizdale (who premiered both Night Waltz and Bowles’s keyboard masterpiece, the Sonata for two pianos) splendidly represent Bowles’s eclectic, cosmopolitan persona.
Pianists Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn deliver technically adroit and stylistically sound performances that capture the full measure of Bowles’s musical imagination. Perhaps the last of the four Blue Mountain Ballads on Tenessee Williams texts arranged by Kasparov for piano duet, ‘Sugar in the cane’, sounds less idiomatically ‘bluesy’ than expected, but that’s a minor nitpick. All serious lovers of American piano music should investigate this disc, along with Vol 1. Both are graced by Kasparov’s scholarly and informative booklet-notes. Jed Distler
Copland . Korngold ‘Twentieth Century Duos’ Copland Violin Sonata. Two Pieces Korngold Much Ado About Nothing, Op 11 – Suite. Die Tote Stadt – Mariettas Lied; Tanzlied des Pierrot Yuriy Bekker vn Andrew Armstrong pf Navona F NV6046 (53’ • DDD)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Aaron Copland may not seem to have much in common beyond the fact that they both composed Hollywood film scores during the 1930s and ’40s. But the new recording ‘Twentieth Century Duos’ reveals another connection: these composers wrote pieces for violin and piano. As played by violinist Yuriy Bekker and pianist Andrew Armstrong, the music is delightful and lyrical, exuberant and even earthy.
Korngold was in his early twenties when he composed the works presented here. Both his incidental music to Much Ado About Nothing and the opera Die tote Stadt received their premieres in 1920 and helped to put the composer on the international map. The Much Ado music was originally scored for orchestra but Korngold made an arrangement for violin and piano (he played the latter in certain performances) that comprises four movements of characteristically colourful and poetic content. Two arias from Die tote Stadt – Marietta’s Lied and Tanzlied des Pierrot – are touching even without words.
The Copland fare hails from the 1920s and ’40s. The composer wrote the Two Pieces in Paris in the 1920s, when jazz was the rage. The two movements overflow with bluesy and rambunctious spirit, the latter in full splendour in ‘Ukelele Serenade’. The Violin Sonata, from 1942, reflects the solemnity and hope that must have been on Copland’s mind during the Second World War.
Bekker and Armstrong are ideal champions of both composers, playing as equals with eloquent and articulate vibrancy. Donald Rosenberg gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2016 III