”Rhythms & Blues – American Piano Music” – Jocelyn Swigger, piano [TrackList below] – ConBrio CBR21046, 70:43 *****:
“The Jazz Age, for Piano Duo” – Goldstone & Clemmow, duo-pianos [TrackList below] – Divine Art dda25089, 70:43 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
If you like your piano music to be an exciting mix of jazz influences and mimalism, both of these CDs will fill the bill. Jocelyn Swigger put together a program by six American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries, plus herself. She says she wasn’t really looking for a main theme concept, but found some unifying threads – including African music, jazz, ragtime, the blues, and minimalism. She points out that some are notated and others improvised, but even some of the notated ones have an improvisatory feeling about them.
Swigger opens with Barber’s Excursions, in which he transforms regional American musical idioms into small classical forms. She says they sound to her like four different sorts of transportation: first a train, then an aimless stroll, followed by a boat on water, and finally a sort of barn dance with fiddle and harmonica, which makes her think of riding in a convertible. Amy Rubin’s American Progressions are in three movements: Blues, Grace and Pascoalette. The second was inspired by African drummer heard in Ghana and the last is an homage to the Brazilian composer/pianist Hermeto Pascoal.
Martin Scherzinger is a South African composer and his piece is based on Ngaya pipe structure music. The first three of the four continuous movements use only the white keys, whereas the last movement – depicting New York City – is full of dissonance and jazzy syncopation. John Adams’ China Gates was one of the early masterpieces of minimalism, and William Bolcom turned out many original ragtime pieces, of which his The Garden of Eden groups together four. Simplicity is the key to all four. Jelly Roll Morton created his Finger Buster to show his digital superiority in cutting contests with other pianists. Swigger’s own Afterwards are four short entirely improvised bits to end the program.
Married couple Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow formed their duo in 1984 and have performed worldwide – frequently creating entertaining programs from works they have dug up themselves. They have recorded a seven-CD set of all the works written by Schubert for piano four hands.
There have been several orchestral albums centered around works showing jazz influences, but theirs may be the first two-piano album devoted to jazzy-sounding works. Of course Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has been a starting point for this sort of thing ever since its creation, so Goldstone & Clemmow have selected his own two-piano version of An American in Paris – which he actually composed first and then orchestrated later. Edward Hill was educated at Harvard and studied with Widor in Paris at one point. His two-piano Jazz Studies of 1922-24 lack the blues influence heard in Gershwin, and instead make use of popular dances of the era, such as ragtime, the Turkey Trot, Black Bottom and even a rumba. One of the studies sounds much like Kurt Weill.
Darius Milhaud became nuts about American jazz when he visited Harlem in 1922. The next year he created his jazzy ballet The Creation of the World – which really presaged Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as the first major classical work with a strong jazz influence. Dave Brubeck calls it “The best jazz piece from a classical European composer.” Milhaud wrote his own piano duet version of the score, and that is the one played by Goldstone and Clemmow. Alexander Moyzes is regarded as the founder of the Slovakian school of composition. He wrote his Jazz Sonata for Two Pianos in 1932 for another two-piano duo, also showing more dance-hall influence than that of Harlem.
The other shorter works are of great interest, and the special arrangements of Star Dust and Embraceable You that close out the program are a total delight. Several of the works on this CD here receive their first recording – including the piano duet version of The Creation of the World. Miking of the two pianos is excellent.
TrackList – Swigger =
Samuel Barber: Excursions ; Amy Rubin: American Progressions for Piano – Blues, Grace, Pascoalette; Martin Scherzinger : When One Has the Feet of Wind; John Adams : China Gates; William Bolcom: The Garden of Eden – Four Rags for Piano = Old Adam – Two Step, The Eternal Feminine – Slow Drag, The Serpent’s Kiss – Rag Fantasy ; Through Eden’s Gates – Cakewalk; Jelly Roll Morton: Finger Buster; Jocelyn Swigger: Afterward
TrackList – Goldstone & Clemmow =
Gershwin: An American in Paris
Edward Burlingame Hill: Jazz Studies for Two Pianos
Darius Milhaud: La creation du monde
Alexander Moyzes: Jazz Sonata for Two Pianos
Matyas Seiber: Sel. from Easy Dances for Piano Duet
Hoagy Carmichael: Star Dust
George Gershwin: Embraceable You
— John Sunier