Partain opens with a small but elegant Rachmaninov group, including a virile Prelude in B-flat, Op 23, No. 2. He keeps a heady, flexible tension on the this piece, then segues into two of the more legato studies, the Prelude in G-sharp Minor, Op. 32, No. 12 and the G Major, Op. 32, No. 5, an old favorite Moiseiwitsch played to perfection. Partain imbues it with intelligent lyricism and light, gossamer colors. I like Partain’s Scarlatti – the D Major Sonata, K. 96 enjoys lithe and optimistic energies, plastic repeated notes that do not degenerate into typewriter mechanics. The F Minor, K. 481 beings us an air of mysterious introspection, while the final sonata of the set, A Major, K. 39, is a vivacious toccata with guitar effects.
The 1860 Variations on an Original Theme of Brahms evolve naturally enough; they follow a course Schumann had explored in his Op. 13 and Op. 46, which he and Brahms likely played as a duet. Huge block chords and otherwise muddy harmonies become lucid and songful under Partain’s sympathetic fingers. Partain moves this often stodgy, consciously pedagogical work forward, savoring the Brahms penchant for overlapping or contrary motives. Larry Barnes is a colleague of Partain at Transylvania University, and his 2002 Toccata captures a ferocious aggression that we know from Bartok, here cross-fertilized by the events of September 11, 2001. The moto perpetuo finds a moment or two of quieter, nostalgic relief, in the manner of Scriabin, only to resurge in violently kaleidoscopic figures that do not forgive easily. Partain’s with Beethoven’s Appassionata, the paragon of the composer’s “heroic style,” set in Neapolitan harmonies and outpourings of brooding and cascading ferocity. Partain tries to cast the piece in less excited colors, the Apollinian impulse to measure and grace ruminating on how to subdue the Dionysian furies, perhaps homage to the approach favored by Emil Gilels. The theme and variations reaps the benefits of Partain’s nobly plastic realization, and the Allegro ma non troppo’s otherwise blistering sensibilities even find moments of repose. A thoughtful, controlled demonstration of fluent keyboard artistry, this disc.
— Gary Lemco