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Arthur Farwell: Piano Music, Vol. 2

Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Toccata Classics   Catalog #: 222   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

FARWELL Dawn, op. 12. Tone Pictures after Pastels in Prose, op. 7. Polytonal Studies, op. 100: Series II. Mesa and Plain, op. 20/2: Pawnee Horses Lisa Cheryl Thomas (pn) TOCCATA 0222 (65:03)

I reviewed Volume One of this Farwell Read more series in Fanfare 36:5, where I gave background details for this composer and concluded with the statement that the second volume was awaited with enthusiasm. Here it is, full of delights. Lisa Cheryl Thomas provides excellent and detailed booklet notes. Farwell’s op. 12 Dawn (1902) reflects the importance held by Native Indians for the rising of the sun. Here Farwell quotes two melodies from the Nebraska Omaha tribe. It is played with great affection and confidence by Lisa Cheryl Thomas. The recording captures her lovely round sound well; it also supports the levels of detail she finds, and her clear mastery of voice-leading.

The nine movements of Tone Pictures after Pastels in Prose (1895) are inspired by prose poems of Theodore de Barville, Baudelaire, Charles Bernard, and Judith Gautier. Quotations are included in the helpful booklet, along with descriptions of the music. The decidedly Chopinesque third piece (“The Stranger,” after Baudelaire) is most effective, with a left-hand singing melody that seems evocative of the cello (the booklet rightly links it to Chopin’s Étude op. 25/7). Thomas brings the sort of adult knowing to childhood wonder that makes one posit she would be an excellent Kinderszenen interpreter to this music, particularly perhaps “Indifference to the Lures of Spring” (after Gautier). There is indeed a marked spirit of reflection through most of these pieces, a mood that Thomas captures to perfection. Her right hand cantabile is particularly attractive.

The arrival of the Polytonal Studies, composed between 1940 and 1952, brings a marked change in style. It also continues on from Volume One, which presented the first 11: here is Nos. 12 through 26. The more progressive harmonic language seems to draw depth from Farwell’s pen. There is a delicious Stravinskian tinge to the B-Minor/G-Minor (No. 14), a sort of two-part of invention, a trait that recurs in the D-Minor/E-Minor (No. 16), although here the music seems to strain to return to a purer Bachian mode of expression. The C-Minor/E?-Minor (No. 15) has a reflective quality that almost at times tends towards the blues. The more extended studies last around five minutes, and in the case of No. 18 (F-Minor/F?-Minor), this results in a miniature tone poem. The grand No. 19 (G-Minor/B-Minor) comes as a surprise. The opening implies a full scale transcription of a Bach organ prelude and fugue (although true fugue-like writing only arrives in No. 21, the B?-Minor/G-Minor): Thomas in her notes posits links in No. 19 to Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev (and indeed a Russian tinge creeps in as the music progresses).

Native American rhythms (and harmonies) permeate the final offering, “Pawnee Horses” (1905). It seems as if though piece acts as summary of the heart of Farwell’s music, and makes the perfect close to the disc.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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