Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata No. 4,
Peter Seivewright (pn)
DIVINE ART 25052 (78:12)
This is an intriguing collection of so-called American piano music. My qualifier refers to the fact that Miklós Rózsa was born and trained in Hungary, even though his classic Hollywood film scores
Ben Hur, El Cid
, et. al.) make him seem like a red-blooded American. In any case, his excellent Sonata is decidedly old world, completely drenched with the spirit of fellow Hungarian Bartók. This is not to say that he is being imitative, but that they draw from the same Magyar folk sources. Pianist Seivewright, in his informative notes, writes that Rózsa’s “serious” music deserves greater attention. If this powerful, tautly conceived Sonata is a good representative of that output, I would agree.
The 1945 Elliott Carter Sonata is a pivotal work in the creative life of our centenarian master, American in a kind of Ivesian way, but pointing towards the more prickly modernism that would mark the vast range of his career. Seivewright approaches the work from a contemporary perspective, emphasizing the angularity and abstraction of the work. It is an interesting contrast to the much more lyrical approach of Charles Rosen, on his essential collection of Carter piano music on the Bridge label. Rosen makes the music more accessible, but both ways are valid. Seivewright certainly has the imprimatur of the composer, who called an earlier performance of his Sonata by the pianist “most remarkable, breathtaking.” My personal touchstone for this great music is the reading of the outstanding young American pianist Jeremy Denk, whom I have heard play it in concert twice, each time absolutely flooring his audience with the power and comprehension of his vision. He has not recorded it yet, but it is just a matter of time.
Edward MacDowell’s music strikes me as pompous and bangy, qualities exacerbated by Seivewright’s metallic tonality (or is it the recording?). As a period piece, exemplifying American art music in a formative time, it is interesting and even somewhat touching. It works well as a companion to the contrasting music on the riveting and energetic program.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
Piano Sonata No. 4 in e,
Peter Seivewright (pn)
DIVINE ART 25052 (78:12)
This disc is titled
American Piano Sonatas
and offers a rich and intriguing mix of music.
There are nine versions in total listed on ArkivMusic of the Carter Piano Sonata, and Seivewright holds his head high given that Rosen and Oppens are among the competition. Seivewright is uncompromising in his approach, and it works well. Angularities are emphasized; obsessive repetitions make their rather manic point well. Seivewright is most tender in the
opening to the second movement (of two). A pity the recording is rather thin, as Seivewright seems in tune with the unhurried mystery here. He has no problems holding the concentration in this long (17:29) movement, and provides some moments of stoic grandeur along the way. An eminently rewarding reading.
Leonard Pennario gives a fascinating, exciting performance of Mikós Rósza’s Piano Sonata in the four-disc box
Leonard Pennario: The Early Years 1950–1958
(MSR 1188, reviewed by Peter Burwasser in
30:6). I agree fully with Burwasser’s identification of Pennario’s handling of counterpoint as one of the joys of this performance. The slow movement has real poignancy, while the finale almost out-Prokofievs Prokofiev in its relentless spikiness. Seivewright is more laid-back in the first movement, and this loss of rigor shows; the music seems less sure of itself. This characterizes the difference between the two players, and the timings confirm it. Pennario’s three movements are 6:06–6:14–6:14, whereas Seivewright’s are 8: 26–7:46–740. Seivewright’s central Andante is fine, full of climactic tensions. Only in the finale are honors fairly evenly divided, with Seivewright finding more of circus-mode Stravinsky than Prokofiev.
Finally, MacDowell, a master of the grand sweeping gesture. While in the other pieces one feels Seivewright is enjoying the challenges the composers throw at him, it is here that one senses that engagement with the music itself is at its highest. The indicator for the central movement, “With naive tenderness,” is here perfectly caught. The finale is not really fierce, as MacDowell indicates (there are hints of studio caution), yet Seivewright clearly has something to say in this music.
A fascinating program delivered with style and flair.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Piano by Elliott Carter
Peter Seivewright (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1945-1946; USA
Featured Sound Samples
Piano Sonata (Rózsa): III. --
Piano Sonata: I. Maestoso
Piano Sonata: II. Andante
Piano Sonata, Op. 20: I. Calmo - Allegro
Piano Sonata, Op. 20: II. Andante con calore
Piano Sonata, Op. 20: III. Allegro giusto e vigoroso
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E minor, Op. 59, "Keltic": I. With great power and dignity
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E minor, Op. 59, "Keltic": II. With naive tenderness
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E minor, Op. 59, "Keltic": III. Very swift and fierce
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