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Moods - Piano Music By American Women Composers / Max Lifchitz

Release Date: 06/30/2009 
Label:  North/South Recordings   Catalog #: 1049   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Marilyn J. ZiffrinElizabeth BellRami LevinRain Worthington
Performer:  Max Lifchitz
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOODS Max Lifchitz (pn) NORTH/SOUTH R1049 (70:00)

ZIFFRIN Moods. Piano Sonata. BELL Arecibo Sonata. LEVIN Passages. WORTHINGTON Hourglass. Tangents. Dark Dreams. Always Almost

Max Lifchitz, a respected pianist, composer, and Read more conductor, is also the founder of North/South Consonance, an organization dedicated to the performance and recording of contemporary music. This particular CD, one of more than 40 in North/South’s catalog, presents representative piano works of four living American women composers. Marilyn Ziffrin’s Moods , consisting of three short contrasting pieces, opens the program. The first begins slowly and initially reminded me of Debussy’s La Cathédral engloutie . The tempo gradually speeds up, the music becomes more boisterous, and the French connection shifts from Debussy to Poulenc. The second piece is calm, recalling the opening of the first but with less dynamic contrast. Some dissonances occasionally disrupt its peaceful introspection. The third is energetic and recalls Kabalevsky. It’s a brisk, extroverted amusement that ends with an upward-sweeping glissando. By refraining from applying titles, the composer, in her words, leaves it “up to the listener to identify his or her mood for the piece.” Ziffrin’s Piano Sonata is lyrical and leisurely, delicate and meditative, or urbane and high-spirited. Moods and the sonata share certain qualities and techniques in common and are clearly written by the same composer.

Elizabeth Bell’s Arecibo Sonata doesn’t dwell long on its Largo introduction: a few bars only before rushing headlong into the Allegro con spirito. It’s not a uniformly tempestuous journey, however, but one interrupted by episodes both fluid and declamatory. The melodic contours are somewhat angular, “modern,” but not excessively so. The composer describes the powerfully intense second movement as “grieving,” reflecting her feelings of mortality while undergoing treatment for an illness. Flowing passagework links the “angry” outbursts that dot the terrain. The Scherzo’s (third movement) theme would bear a striking resemblance to Debussy’s Rêverie if it weren’t minor, sprinkled with dissonant accents that impart a sardonic quality, and considerably faster in tempo. The concluding stormy Allegro appassionato maintains its intensity even when the flow of rapid notes relents. It’s therefore a surprise that it ends with a whisper rather than a bang.

It might be said that Rami Levin’s Passages follows the Lisztian model of creating a large-scale, tightly argued structure through rhythmic and thematic transformation of a pliable melody. However, Levin’s is not nearly so long (it’s around eight minutes) and it’s certainly not written in a romantic style. The liner notes describe it quite accurately as “a single movement work built around the melodic and rhythmic gesture heard at the opening.” The piece begins and ends quietly but this “bookending” encloses rapid passagework, extended stretches of dynamically emphatic playing, and even a tango shorn of most of its seductive or sentimental qualities. It’s a more interesting work than the note’s bare musicological analysis suggests—“This motive [the work’s subject] consists of two intervals: an augmented fourth and a perfect fourth. It functions as the main sonority throughout the piece … while generating complementary melodic and harmonic materials.” Passages is a persuasive work, its sometimes wearying power alleviated by “dreamy nocturne-like sections.”

Rain Worthington’s four pieces share a common style, flowing naturally one into the other. Written with a carefully controlled economy of means, the music ranges from hauntingly evocative to strongly assertive. Disguised repetition, by which I mean a less obvious insistence than is characteristic of minimalism, helps prolong the ideas, and Worthington’s spare, single lines can be grippingly effective.

Lifchitz, who is never less than technically adroit, chooses judicious tempos, shapes phrases masterfully, and is ever alert to fluctuations in mood. He’s a communicative performer who clearly places his sympathetic heart and mind at the service of the composer. This is an admirable introduction to the music of four women composers who have eschewed the extremes of modernism to speak clearly and directly to their audience.

FANFARE: Robert Schulslaper
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Works on This Recording

Moods by Marilyn J. Ziffrin
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 6 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano by Marilyn J. Ziffrin
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 8 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano "Arecibo" by Elizabeth Bell
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 13 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Passages by Rami Levin
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 8 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Hourglass by Rain Worthington
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Length: 7 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Tangents by Rain Worthington
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Length: 10 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Dark Dreams by Rain Worthington
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Length: 8 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Always Almost by Rain Worthington
Performer:  Max Lifchitz (Piano)
Length: 6 Minutes 16 Secs. 

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