Wednesday, 4 October 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, October 2017)

Danacord 783 & 784 (2 CDs) / *****

This is a second anthology of American piano music by Philippines-born naturalised American pianist Cecile Licad for the Danish label Danacord. Following her earlier disc of American first piano sonatas, American Nocturnes dwells on the eternally fascinating subject of music of the night, which comes in surprisingly different guises. 

The work that unites the mostly short pieces is George Crumb's Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik (A Little Midnight Music) for prepared piano, inspired by Thelonious Monk's jazz classic 'Round Midnight. Seven of its movements begin and end the collection besides being interspersed between works by 15 other composers.

These run the gamut of Chopin-influenced Nocturnes by 19th century composers like Louis Gottschalk, George Chadwick and Arthur Foote, the Romantic idioms of Amy Beach (Dreaming and A Hermit Thrush At Eve and Morn) and impressionisms of Charles Griffes (Notturno and Night Winds). 

A more distinct American voice emerges in the 20th century, with Joseph Lamb's Ragtime Nightingale and Ferde Grofe's Deep Nocturne with its Gershwin-like harmonies. This sojourn through time culminates with Samuel Barber's Nocturne, Aaron Copland's Night Thoughts and Leo Ornstein's Nocturne No.2 which are dissonant but still tonal. 

There is a cameo in Canadian pianist-composer Marc-AndrĂ© Hamelin's Little Nocturne, but since he now lives in Boston, is practically American. Pianist Licad's perceptive and imaginative playing yields two hours of totally absorbing listening.    

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