Notes and Editorial Reviews
12 Bagatelles. 3 Elegiac Pieces. Sonata Seria
Evan Hirsch (pn)
NAXOS 8.559632 (56:13)
This second volume from Naxos of the solo piano music of George Rochberg continues to enhance and deepen our view of this composer. It certainly has enriched my sense of his music, which has always been a bit of a cipher to me since I first encountered it as an undergraduate at Penn in the late seventies, when Rochberg was still on the music faculty. I found that his mix of styles, from serialism to neoromanticism,
combined with his predilection for musical quotes, left him without his own signature. These two recordings, as well as a handful of recent live performances, have given me a more inclusive appreciation for his thoughtful, inquisitive, and beautifully crafted manner.
The music on this program spans the composer’s range, appropriately, beginning with the echt serialism of the 12 brief Bagatelles. These are sharply contoured, brilliantly expressive little gems, a good reminder of why Rochberg was so admired as a serialist long before he achieved wide notoriety when he “converted” to tonality in 1972. But then there are the Three Elegiac Pieces, with full-blown romantic tonality showing up in Rochbeg’s music well before 1972. The first two, from the late 1940s, sound very American; broad and Coplandesque, and bluesy and languid, respectively. The last one skips ahead a full generation, to 1998, in the words of annotator Evan Hirsch, “the work of an older man: deliberate, brooding, and fearsome.” The Sonata Seria, written in 1948 and revised by the composer one half century later, is a fine, big-boned work in the classical fast-slow-fast movement construction, but in a highly chromatic, at times ferocious language. This is strong and very compelling material, with enough distinction to be included in the pantheon of great American piano sonatas, featuring those of Carter, Barber, and Copland.
Evan Hirsch, here bereft of his musical and life partner Sally Pinkas (they performed the grandly exotic duo piano
Circles of Fire
on Volume 1), plays brilliantly, and has contributed thoughtful and informative notes. Another winner in this excellent Naxos series.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
Works on This Recording
Sonata Seria by George Rochberg
Evan Hirsch (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: by 1998; USA
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