Americans! - 20th Century Piano Music of American Composers

A fascinating collection demonstrating the wide variety of styles in American piano music of the last century

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Americans! - 20th Century Piano Music of American Composers

  • China Gates
  • Sonata for Piano
  • Processional
  • Each for himself?, Machine Flats (Vigorously)
  • Each for himself?, Returns (Andante)
  • Each for himself?, The Five-Flat Machine's Return (Very fast)
  • In a Landscape
  • (4) North American Ballads, Winnsboro Cotton Mill blues

This exceptionally interesting programme celebrates the work of six composers who, as Emanuele Arciuli tells us in his lively and combative notes, are both markedly different and indelibly American. John Adams’s China Gates shows minimalism at its most affectionate rather than coldly austere, subtly and evocatively varied before an abrupt end. To Arciuli it suggests an immense ‘prairie of sound’ and is ‘not unlike what is experienced in dreams where time contracts and everything speeds up yet appears hazy, impalpable and unreal’. The Barber Sonata is, of course, a mainstay of the repertoire, while Crumb’s Processional, with its instruction sempre pulsando estaticamente, Joel Hoffman’s Each for Himself? and John Cage’s In a Landscape are all as accessible as they are fascinating. For Arciuli, Crumb’s composition recreates an underwater world, while Cage’s music is at once hypnotic yet sufficiently ingenious to bypass soporific or merely fashionable notions of ‘new age’ music. Finally, there is Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, as gloriously audacious as ever; a protest song with a vengeance.
Provided the demands are not excessive, Arciuli’s performances are fluent and sympathetic, and his reading of Crumb’s Processional is warmly endorsed by the composer. But he is no match for Marc-Andre Hamelin in the Rzewski and, as he clearly demonstrates in the Barber, he is no virtuoso; here the opening Allegro is too freely paced to be either energetic or cogent, the Allegro vivace e leggiero is cautious and imprecise, the Adagio more plodding than intense, and the final Fuga threatens to throw him at every acrobatic twist and turn.
Admirers of this work will return to classic recordings by Horowitz and Cliburn (RCA, 5/91 – nla), and also to Terence Judd, whose live Chandos performance is long overdue on CD. Stradivarius’s sound is tight and airless, there are no biographical notes on the pianist and, overall, the performances would have benefited from a stronger degree of authority.'

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