Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: Nos. 1, 2. Fantasy
. 6 Lyrical Bagatelles
. 3 Piano Pieces,
6 Fantasy Pieces
Peter Seivewright (pn)
DIVINE ART 21205 (2 CDs:139:06)
The music of Danish composer Louis Glass (1864–1936) has slowly been gaining currency over the years. So much so that there are currently no fewer than three versions of his Fifth Symphony (two on Danacord), and two of the
Sixth (one Danacord, one Marco Polo). Good to see the enterprising label Divine Art honoring Glass’s piano music.
Seivewright brings grandeur to the opening of the First Sonata, op. 25 (published 1898). Coming in at more than 40 minutes, this is an expansive work with ties to late Beethoven. Seivewright points out the wide spacing of the opening as evidence for this; he also presciently discusses the cyclical nature of the piece’s musical processes and its links, therefore, to Franck, a composer much admired by Glass. The first movement (13 minutes) unfolds unhurriedly. What is most striking is the sheer compositional confidence, a sort of background calm that indeed links to the Beethoven of the late sonatas. Seivewright discusses the use of the chromatic fourth in the second movement in some depth (a chromatically filled-in descending fourth which then returns to its starting note). The Molto Adagio is the emotional core of the piece, imbued with late-Beethovenian stillness but with some individual and truly magical sonorities (the high right-hand decorations over a subterranean bass around four minutes in furnishes a fine example). More, there is a timelessness evoked here that is most impressive. The recitative-like explorations of the closing pages also serve to evoke a world beyond the mundane. Seivewright has the concentration to bring these off mesmerically. The disjointed, discombobulatory opening to the finale ushers in music of marked disquiet. No mere curtain-closer this, the finale is complex and seems to breathe organicism. The final pages are almost Brucknerian in their majesty (especially as rendered here by Seivewright, and as captured by his excellent engineers).
There is another version of this sonata, on Dacapo, reviewed (none too enthusiastically in terms of the music itself) by David Johnson in
19: 3. Seivewright proves conclusively that the score does not just “mosey along” (as that review claimed), but that this is music fully deserving of attention.
One has to agree with Seivewright who, in his notes, asserts that “for all its charms” the Second Sonata “cannot be considered quite the equal” of op. 25. There is still a marked Beethovenian element (especially the serenity and the registral extremes of the closing pages of the first movement), but the compositional confidence noted above is not quite as marked. Seivewright is exceptional in the Adagio for the way he sets up and then sustains the utmost concentration; there is a sense of utterly natural unfolding here. The charm of the Scherzo is fully realized here in Seivewright’s eminently jaunty reading. Seivewright revels, also, in the finale’s unpredictability.
The op. 35 Fantasy was Glass’s most popular work in his lifetime. Easy to hear why. The complexities of the sonatas are largely absent. This is music born of the salon and exhibits a decidedly improvisatory sheen. Seivewright seems to delight in the moments of off-the-cuff imitation (counterpoint is too strong a word). Heard immediately after the closely wrought op. 25 Sonata, this piece might sound overlong; perhaps take it in isolation to savor its merits. Seivewright is particularly striking in the more intimate moments (the interiorizing of emotions around the 11-minute mark and their subsequent blossomings, for example). Again, Seivewright is also able to capture the granitic grandeur of the close, relishing, all the while, Glass’s ingenious harmonic twists.
Seivewright likens the Bagatelles to Japanese paintings in which “just a few pencil strokes are used to conjure up whole worlds of emotion.” The first is a mere 26 seconds, the longest 2:50. Any one (or a selection) of these would be ideal recital encore fodder. Seivewright is correct to identify echoes of Russian Orthodox music in No. 5, which emerges as the most fascinating movement of the set. How frivolous the final
sounds after this.
The two sets of piano pieces find both Glass and Seivewright at their most charming. Seivewright provides fanciful programs for the Three Piano Pieces, op. 66. The central “Nocturne” (at six minutes the longest movement of the three) is particularly effective, its middle section showing some disturbance without any undue horrors. If the recording of the final piece is somewhat lacking in depth, one can still hear Seivewright’s enjoyment of what he describes as an evocation of “Scottish Highland dancing.” It is easy to hear (and be amused by) what he says: This is a true Ecossaise. The op. 4
show more Schumannesque leanings, and indeed each movement has a fanciful title (“Freedom,” “A Futile Warning,” and the like; there’s even a “Dreaming,” a direct equivalent to Schumann’s famous “Träumerei”). The penultimate movement is a glorious depiction of precipitation (it is called “In the Rain”).
Peter Seivewright is a most sensitive guide to this music. I should, I suppose, admit to a personal link with him, however tenuous. More years ago than I care to remember, Seivewright accompanied the Bury Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (U.K.: this is plain old “Bury,” geographically situated up north, not “Bury St. Edmunds”) on a tour in which he was soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. I was the principal horn player of the orchestra at the time. Just thought you should know.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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