“American Masterpieces for Piano Duo” = WILLIAM BOLCOM: Recuerdos; AARON COPLAND: El Sálon México; DAVE BRUBECK: Points on Jazz, LEONARD BERNSTEIN Arias and Barcarolles – Diane Wang & Stacy Rodgers piano duo – Albany TROY1427, 78:12 *****:
I can’t recall enjoying listening to an album with multiple composers as much as I did this one. It’s a fascinating blend of dance, jazz and Latin idioms, but what captivated me most was the sense of humour and fun in the music.
William Bolcom’s piece Recuerdos kicks off the album. I first heard Bolcom as accompanist for his wife Joan Morris in turn-of-the-20th-century art songs, most of them with a comic tone. He wrote these three dances as his entry in a two-piano composition competition. One can hear hints of Milhaud, Gottschalk, and Palacios in the respective pieces – Chóro, Paseo, and Valse Venezolano – and a rag-time beat through all three.
Next is Leonard Bernstein’s two-piano transcription of Aaron Copland’s El Sálon México. Written originally in 1932 and transcribed 11 years later when Lenny was 25, the title comes from a nightclub in Mexico City that composer Carlos Chavez took Copland to visit. The percussiveness of the pianos capture the driving rhythm of the orchestral piece well, but not completely.
Dave Brubeck is represented by his Points on Jazz. It was written in 1948 for the American Ballet Theatre at the request of its choreographer Dania Krupska. There is a plot to the dances, (boy meets girl, etc.) played out through the eight sections, in a wide variety of tempi and styles.
Finally Leonard Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles concludes the album on a vocal note. The origin of the name is amusing. Bernstein had given a concert at the White House in 1960 and was approached after by President Eisenhower who said “You know, I liked that last piece you played. It’s got a theme. I like music with a theme, not all them arias and barcarolles.” Almost perversely, Bernstein fills this piece with an incredible range of musical styles – late Romanticism, 12-tone technique, Hebrew songs and dances, popular songs, musical theatre and blues and jazz. A soprano and baritone (husband and wife Jennifer and Bradley Robinson) join the pianists, husband and wife Diane Wang and Stacy Rodgers here. The singers play a married couple, and sing a set of eight songs telling a moving, and often amusing, domestic story. Bernstein wrote most of the lyrics and all of the two-piano music, and dedicated each section to a different love of his life. This is the composer’s last major work, and I’d urge anyone not familiar with it to obtain and listen carefully to a performance.
The producers of this album could have been more helpful by providing the text of the songs in the accompanying booklet. (Seems unfortunately to be frequent occurrence lately with many albums, and often they’re not even at their web site…Ed.) I also find it helpful if the playlist, with timings, is in the booklet, but it is absent here. Nevertheless, the notes, written by Stacy Rodgers, about the music and the performers are excellent.
The performances and acoustics are also excellent. The University of Mississippi plays a prominent role in this album, as it is the site of the recording (Gertrude C. Ford Centre for the Performing Arts on the campus in Oxford, August and October, 2006). Jeffrey Reed, also of Oxford, Mississippi was the recording engineer.