Music for the End of Winter: New American Works for Solo Piano = JOHN HALLE: Etude 2000; HOWARD FRAZIN: Music for the End of Winter; FRANK FELICE: 3 Pieces from Banff; MICHAEL SCHELLE: Hammerstein; DANIEL KOONTZ: Improvements for Piano – Kate Boyd, piano – Ravello Records 7806, 49:33, [www.ravellorecords.com] ***:
I must confess that neither Kate Boyd nor her cohort composers on this disc are familiar to me at all, or Ravello Records. This appears to be at least a semi-vanity production that was generously sponsored by forces at Butler University in Indianapolis, where Boyd currently serves as Assistant Professor of Piano and Coordinator of Piano Studies.
John Halle serves as faculty member at Bard College Conservatory and is active as composer and theorist. Etude 2000 is motored, vivid and easily digestible, making for a nice warm-up to this disc. Music for the End of Winter consists of five brief mood pieces collected from scribbles and sketches that composer Howard Frazin—composition teacher at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts—had written during his early studies. They are quiet and meditative, as befitting the title, and reminded me a little of some of Dave Brubeck’s reflective music.
Frank Felice’s Three Pieces from Banff get a little thornier in terms of their Hindemith-like modalism and counterpoint, while also indulging in the massive sonorities of Debussy (The Engulfed Cathedral) and exhibiting a playfulness that gives the Hindemith harmonies the spunkiness of Poulenc. The three movements are named “Patent Nonsense”, “Winter’s gloaming”, and “Impromptutu”. He is an associate professor of composition, theory, and electronic music at Butler University.
The twelve movements of Daniel Koontz’s Improvements for Piano constitute the longest work here. They were composed over a ten year period beginning in 1993, and are based, according to the composer, “on improvisations on very pianistic figures, chosen for both sound and how fast they could be played.” Each piece is intended to present different challenges to the performer, and to me have a Kabalevsky feeling to them in the way they manipulate harmony, while Debussy again figures in here from the ghosts of his Etudes. He teaches music at Stony Brook Southampton, and is also a Colleague of the American Guild of Organists and serves as organist and choir director for Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, NY.
Michael Schelle’s Hammerstein is probably the most rhapsodic work on this recording, and pulls from sources like Beethoven’s Waldstein and Hammerklavier sonatas, with a touch, as the notes say, of Oscar Hammerstein as well. It is rather episodic in nature, and self-indulgent in terms of its penchant for in-the-moment reflection. While tonal, it digresses among established harmonies and seeks to create a sense of the atonal. Schelle is composer-in-residence, and Professor of Music at Butler University.
I enjoyed this recording, and the playing of Boyd is beyond reproach—she certainly knows her friends’ music very well and presents it creditably. At the same time I can’t say that I have a hankering to return to it either, but these sorts of modern vignettes based on mood and emotion are often difficult to grasp unless something really special is present, which is not the case here, just some solid composition that proves interesting while listening. Even so, many will like this disc, and it may provide a refreshing 50 minutes from the tried and true. Sound is quiet, a little subdued, and very clear.
— Steven Ritter