Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Vale of Enitharmon,
Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas,
Op. 109: Series I
Lisa Cheryl Thomas (pn)
TOCCATA 0126 (60:53)
We are once more in debt to Martin Anderson’s Toccata Classics. Arthur Farwell (1872-1952) is represented a number of times in the
Archive, and ArkivMusic finds him on a total of 10 discs. This is the first disc dedicated solely to his piano music, however: That it is billed as Volume 1 is cause for hope and celebration. The present disc presents two first recordings (opp. 91 and 109) and one first complete recording (the “Song of Peace” from op. 21 has been previously issued on a disc entitled “The American Indianists,” played by Dario Müller, Marco Polo 223715. Incidentally, Müller has also recorded a disc of American Indian melodies on Nuova Era, reviewed by Robert McColley in
13:5). Note that two pieces, the
Navajo War Dance
, op. 20/1, and
, op. 78/3, are available on Pristine Classical PAKM 044, “American Piano Music from 78rpm Recordings,” played by Jeanne Behrend in a recording dating from around 1940 and not listed at the time of writing (2/3/2013) on the ArkivMusic website.
Farwell was an informal student of Engelbert Humperdinck; MacDowell, too, was known to survey Farwell’s new scores, although lack of money meant that Farwell could not study regularly with him; later, he studied with Pfitzner in Berlin. It was while back in the States, in Boston, that Farwell found a book of transcriptions of Native Indian melodies that inspired him to take his lifelong interest in Native Americana further. The works on this disc present two of his non-Indian works alongside the decidedly Indian op. 21.
In 1930, Farwell penned
The Vale of Enitharmon
, a work shot through with mysticism. Lisa Cheryl Thomas delivers its slow moving beauty with real insight (one imagines she would be a fine Scriabin interpreter; indeed, listeners may well find themselves referencing that composer whilst processing this piece). Tenderness is the keyword here, beautifully recorded. “Enitharmon” refers to “Spiritual Beauty.” The
Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas
(1905) refers to an inter-tribe bonding ritual. It is, therefore, a ceremony of peace. The movements describe in detail the ceremony’s machinations, from approach (“Receiving the Messenger”) through “Invocation” to “Song of Peace.” The suite ends with a chorale, marked “Broadly, with religious feeling.” The melodies are supported by simple but effective harmonies, and Thomas plays with affecting simplicity, yet she responds well to the music’s swells into greater complexities (quasi-Impressionist gestures sometimes appear). Although all eight pieces are brief, there is a feeling of expansiveness at work here, so that when the blissfully calm “Song of Peace” arrives it gives the impression of a quiet yet infinitely strong climax; the chorale is the flip side to this climax, broad, triumphant, hopeful. The piece is satisfyingly constructed; Thomas understands this completely and gives a magnificent account.
Finally, the first Series of the
of 1940-52. A minor quibble is that in a straight play through of the disc there is too little gap between the end of op. 21 and the start of the Studies. The right hand is in a different key signature to the left (as Thomas rightly points out, therefore, these are really, therefore, bitonal studies). A total of 46 Studies were planned, but only 23 were to be completed before the composer’s demise. Here we have the 11 “major/major” key Studies (i.e. those combining two major keys). The music is far from “modern”; exploratory is the word I would personally choose, although even then not as far, generally, as the Scriabinesque tendencies of op. 91. More, there is much of great beauty here.
Lisa Cheryl Thomas is herself of Native American ancestry, and the love she feels for this music is near palpable. Her musicological background work is impeccable, too, as she used facsimiles of Farwell’s manuscripts in preparation for this recording. She pens her own wide-ranging booklet note, also, which itself makes for fascinating reading. Recommended, and the second volume is awaited with enthusiasm.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
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