ELLIOT CARTER: Piano Sonata (1945-46); COPLAND: Piano Variations (1930); Sonata for violin and piano (1943); PATITUCCI: Lakes (2007) – Ann Schein, piano /Earl Carlyss, violin – MSR

by | Jul 23, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ELLIOT CARTER: Piano Sonata (1945-46); COPLAND: Piano Variations (1930); Sonata for violin and piano (1943); PATITUCCI: Lakes (2007) – Ann Schein, piano /Earl Carlyss, violin – MSR Classics MS 1321 *** [Distrib. by Albany]:

Elliot Carter, the doyen of American avantegarde composers, turned 100 years old this year and is still composing. His warm demeanor in interviews belies the complexity of his music. However, his Piano Sonata is an early composition that leaves the listener with a quiet sense of calm, as if it’s a prelude to the complexity that pervades his later works. The first movement creates drama by alternating between contemplative chords and rapid passagework. The second movement starts with an andante section saturated with quiet stillness, which gradually intensifies into brilliant angular passagework. The work ends with a sly, witty slow section, oddly moving and fading into the distance. The pianist, Ann Schein, in her notes, claims similar elements with Chopin’s b minor Sonata, “from brilliant virtuosity, intense lyricism, infectious native rhythms to a shared use of expressive, close intervals.” She performs convincingly.

Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations is one of his signature compositions, immediately acknowledged by younger American composers (Elliot Carter, David Diamond and Leonard Bernstein) for its directness, technical command and exploratory newness. Bernstein ‘went crazy’ when he first heard the work, saying, “A new world of music had opened to me in this work – extreme, prophetic, clangorous, dissonant and intoxicating.” He said he could guarantee to “empty rooms” by playing it. Martha Graham choreographed “Dithyrambic” to the music, a dance of orgiastic abandon to the god Dionysus. The eleven minute work’s pungent four-note motif is transformed into 20 variations and a coda. It’s striking in its unvarnished emotion, frenetic dissonance and poetic interludes. Schein’s performance balances dissonance with vision.

The beautiful violin sonata combines Copland’s melodic popular music with is more modern works. The opening movement “freely sings,” the middle movement is a lyrically sad ode to a friend killed in World War II, and the final movement combines high spirits with heartfelt poignancy. Violinist Earl Carlyss, a member of the Juilliard Quartet for 20 years, plays exquisitely. John Patitucci is a jazz composer and bass player who wrote a thoughtful and dramatic short work for his friend Ann Schein called Lake, which ends the disc.

The recording is beautifully-balanced and luxurious. A wonderful disc of early twentieth century American music.

— Robert Moon

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