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Touch - The Toccata Project / Rorem, Sowerby, Amalong


Release Date: 11/10/2009 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1142   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ned RoremGeorge AntheilLee HoibyIrving Fine,   ... 
Performer:  Philip Amalong
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Entertaining, bravura music from American composers both well-known and less familiar.

The toccata notoriously eludes exact definition - perhaps one should regard it as a gesture towards a certain kind of keyboard music rather than, strictly speaking, a term. As John Caldwell observes in Grove, “The toccata principle is found in many works not so called, and a large number of pieces labelled ‘toccata’ incorporate other more rigorous styles (such as fugue) or forms (such as sonata form)”. In introducing what is designated Volume 1 of a series devoted to Post-1900 Piano Toccatas, the nearest Philip Amalong comes to definition is to write that “Toccatas, or ‘touch pieces’ are percussive and motoric, splashy and fleeting”.
Read more A toccata is all momentum and spinning motion”. This evokes the essence of the toccata very well. Conceiving of it in such terms Amalong suggests that it is “not surprising that toccatas returned to fashion in the 20 th century as the machine age evolved into the technological age at an ever accelerating pace”.

This first volume surveys the toccatas of American composers and proves a rich - and well-programmed - feast of ebullient piano music, though not without sufficient variety of mood and pace to make it satisfying as a recital disc.

I can honestly say that I found every piece here - almost all of which were new to me - of interest in one way or another. A few, inevitably, stand out. The Toccata by Ned Rorem which opens the programme has an impish wit and a fascinating interplay between some lyrical passages and a gradual building of exultant energy; Vincent Persichetti’s delightful set of three Toccatinas encompasses both the rapid headlong runs of the first and the almost Debussian colours of the third; Menotti’s Ricercare and Toccata begins in a Bachian idiom of dignified beauty before, in the Toccata, treating the same theme to a florid moto perpetuo treatment; Emma Lou Diemer’s Serenade/Toccata opens lyrically and proceeds through some moments of repose, before building a growing momentum which, after some complex cross-rhythms, culminates in a hectic conclusion. The Toccata alla Scarlatti of Raymond Lewenthal - who would surely have relished playing many of these pieces - is a delightfully ornamented Scarlatti pastiche in 5/8 time - this deserves an honourable place amongst such twentieth-century hommages to Scarlatti as Kurtág’s Hommage à D.S., Marcelle de Manziarly’s Hommage à Scarlatti and Francaix’s piece of the same title.

Elsewhere, such composers as Riegger (with a rapid moto perpetuo), Fine (with an elegant piece of neo-classicism), Sowerby (through some intriguing dissonances) and Harris (with a characteristic piece full of plangent harmonies) are all heard to good effect. And so are others.

Philip Amalong meets all the technical demands that the music makes upon him, and plays with impressive bravura in a manner which conveys his evident pleasure in this kind of music. A little more space around the recorded sound of Amalong’s Steinway Model D wouldn’t have gone amiss, but this is only a minor quibble and shouldn’t put anyone off investigating this entertaining exploration of some (largely) unfamiliar repertoire. Further volumes should be worth looking out for.

-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International 

Philip Amalong launches what promises to be a fairly comprehensive survey of piano toccatas, starting with post-1900 works by American composers. The pianist's lively booklet notes imaginatively describe the toccata's component parts as "vaulting arpeggios, pinwheeling ostinatos, tumultuously cascading chords, rapid-fire repeated notes, spring-loaded rhythms, incisive articulations, extremes of dynamics and register, and every other imaginable keyboard device to ignite, sustain, and intensify momentum, urgency, excitement." These words ring true in regard to the works on this disc, as well as to Amalong's extroverted, engaging, and stylistically sympathetic performances.

I decided to listen "blindly" at first, identifying the composers afterward. For instance, Track 8 imitates the first movement of Prokofiev's Seventh sonata, and very well at that--but which American composer? Benjamin Lees. And the exciting if slightly crude recital closer in fifths and fourths? James Bastien is the culprit. By contrast, a paired Ricercare and Toccata by Gian Carlo Menotti boasts greater musical substance and textural variety. What about three brief, idiomatic, skillfully symmetrical "Bach-meets-the-Debussy-Etudes" called Toccatinas? No less than Vincent Persichetti's undervalued handicraft.

If you fancy facile, generic, inoffensively "modernist" toccatas, a pair by Lowell Liebermann and Robert Muczynski surely will satisfy. Irving Fine's Little Toccata builds upon Copland's populist style with sly bitonal touches, unpredictable phrase lengths, and strategically placed silences. The first movement of Emma Lou Diemer's Third piano sonata works as a stand-alone piece and contains enough quirky accents and ornaments to offset the regularity of its scale-and-arpeggio traffic. Ned Rorem's Toccata explodes with wit, vitality, and dazzling bravura, while Lee Hoiby's no less masterful example relishes the melodic and percussive potential of the piano's lower register. Perhaps my personal favorite is the one selection not penned by a full-time composer: it's a loopy, harmonically pungent Scarlatti pastiche by the late, great pianist Raymond Lewenthal. The sonics are a bit close-up and dry, and a few piano notes slip out of tune in the heat of battle. All told, this is a fascinating project, and I look forward to further volumes.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Toccata by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
2.
Toccata no 1 by George Antheil
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
3.
Toccata, Op. 1 by Lee Hoiby
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
4.
Little Toccata by Irving Fine
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
5.
Toccata by Leo Sowerby
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; USA 
6.
Toccata by Lowell Liebermann
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
7.
Toccata no 2 by George Antheil
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
8.
Toccata for Piano by Benjamin Lees
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; California 
9.
Toccata for Piano by Roy Harris
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; USA 
10.
Toccatina by Mark Louis Lehman
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
11.
Ricercare and Toccata on a theme from "Old Maid and the Thief" by Gian Carlo Menotti
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; USA 
12.
Toccata for Piano, Op. 15 by Robert Muczynski
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
13.
Serenade Toccata by Emma Lou Diemer
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
14.
Toccata alla Scarlatti by Raymond Lewenthal
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
15.
Toccata by Wallingford Riegger
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
16.
Toccatina no 1 by Vincent Persichetti
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
17.
Toccatina no 2 by Vincent Persichetti
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
18.
Toccatina no 3 by Vincent Persichetti
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
19.
Toccata by James Bastien
Performer:  Philip Amalong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 

Sound Samples

Toccata for Piano
2 Toccatas: Toccata No. 1
Toccata, Op. 1
Diversions for Piano: I. Little Toccata
Toccata
Album for the Young, Op. 43: Toccata
2 Toccatas: Toccata No. 2
Toccata
Toccata for Piano
Toccatina
Ricercare and Toccata on a Theme from The Old Maid and the Thief: Ricercare
Ricercare and Toccata on a Theme from The Old Maid and the Thief: Toccata
Toccata
Seranade - Toccata
Toccata alla Scarlatti
Toccata
3 Toccatinas, Op. 142: No. 1. -
3 Toccatinas, Op. 142: No. 2. -
3 Toccatinas, Op. 142: No. 3. -
Toccata

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