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Exiles' Cafe / Lara Downes


Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Steinway & Sons   Catalog #: 30016  
Composer:  Béla BartókFrédéric ChopinSergei ProkofievBohuslav Martinu,   ... 
Performer:  Lara Downes
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

EXILES’ CAFÉ Lara Downes (pn) STEINWAY & SONS 30016 (60:19)


BARTÓK Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District : Nos. 1-3. CHOPIN Mazurka in f#, Op. 6/1. Mazurka in f, Op. 68/4. PROKOFIEV Pastoral Sonatina Read more class="ARIAL12b"> in C, Op. 59/3. MARTINU Dumkas No. 2, 3. STRAVINSKY Tango in d. RACHMANINOFF Prelude in d , Op. posth. Fragments , Op. posth. WEILL (arr. Distler) “Lost in the Stars”. KORNGOLD Sonata No. 2 , Op. 2: Moderato. STILL Africa: “Land of Romance”. BOWLES Preludes for Piano: Nos. 1, 2, 3, 6. M. SAHL Tango from the Exiles’ Café. MILHAUD Rag Caprice No. 2, Romance. M. FAIROUZ Piano Miniature No. 6, “Addio”

The label of the famous piano manufacturer has been in business for about a year. Its recordings center on the piano but have ranged as far as the Canadian Brass. This collection of miniatures was recorded in September 2012; Steinway Model D #590904 is gorgeously reproduced, all warmth and solidity, with a full, thrilling bottom. Even the repertoire is corporate friendly, avoiding the top half octave which can sound dry and tinny on some Steinway instruments.

A general feeling of Weltschmerz dominates this rectal of music by exiles—in Rachmaninoff, Korngold, and Bartók’s cases, those soon to be exiled—from their homelands, either through political circumstance or by their own volition. To an extent, it mirrors Lara Downes’s life: Born in San Francisco “of Caribbean and Russian heritage,” she studied with two holocaust survivors and then as a girl toured Europe performing with her sisters in what she characterizes as “a gypsy-like existence.”

Among this finely played and subtly realized recital, there are a few misses and some surprising triumphs. Rachmaninoff’s two seldom-heard pieces deserve their obscurity, and Downes draws a blank with a lumpy, unsympathetic reading of Stravinsky’s Tango. A few numbers suffer in translation: Even Jed Distler’s expert arrangement for piano cannot capture the magic of Kurt Weill’s great song—especially after hearing it sung by Eric Owens at the Glimmerglass Opera last summer. On the other hand, Bartók’s rural charm is nicely felt, as is Prokofiev’s airy Sonatina. Chopin’s first and last Mazurkas are toned down in their emotional power without sacrificing any of their beauty. Particularly striking are Paul Bowles’s four Preludes: yearning yet self-observing, almost self-mocking music. On the disc’s longest track, Downes delivers a ravishing reading of the 13-year-old Korngold’s Moderato , fully capturing its passion without ever falling into bathos. Michael Sahl’s Tango from the Exiles’ Café (Downes’s inspiration for this disc) adds Gershwin and jazz to the European baggage of these exiles. Mohammed Fairouz ponders his family heritage from his home in New York’s Arabic community, producing a lovely piece.

What at first seemed like demonstration samplings of artist and instrument prove to be linked by a strong common thread, serving many purposes, for composers and listeners as well. In Downes’s own words: “This music comes from the Exiles’ Café, a place both real and metaphorical where the travelers of the world gather to find a home away from home, a place where journeys converge and histories collide. The miniatures collected here tell stories of the transformative passage from what is left behind to what is discovered ahead. They speak to vanished worlds and altered lives, to the fragility of destiny and the possibilities of new beginnings: postcards from the Exiles’ Café.”

FANFARE: James H. North

-----

American pianist Lara Downes' Exiles' Café is "a place both real and metaphorical, a place where individuals gather from all over the world to find a home away from home. It is filled with dream-chasers: travelers, nomads, explorers, gypsies, and vagabonds -- as well as refugees thrust on journeys undesired." To put together an entire program under this rubric seems a tall order at first, yet exile was a theme running all through the music of the 19th and 20th centuries, and rare were composers who ended up where they started. The charm of Downes' program lies in how she brings together music by such a variety of composers yet finds a very specific elegiac yet somehow adventurous mood in all of it. The notes dance around the fact that not all these composers had been exiled by the time the works involved were written. Bartók's limpid Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District, Sz 35a, were composed in 1907, years before the composer left Hungary. Yet they might easily have been performed by Bartók upon arriving in the U.S., and the quiet, delicately sad tone of the whole. It is actually surprising to see how many composers fit in, given that the period is generally taken to be one of storming artistic barricades. It's not often that you would find Rachmaninov, Paul Bowles, Bohuslav Martinu, and William Grant Still on the same program, but here they happily coexist. Yet they don't sound the same, which is what gives this collection of 21 pieces on a single emotion its variety. Downes keeps very tight control over the material, rarely letting the music rise above moderate volume or the emotional temperature above melancholy. The result is that this exiles' café really comes alive with the sounds of 100 years ago, and the sadness of upheaval. A wonderful release from the Steinway & Sons label, which has taken the attitude that one way to perpetuate piano-playing is to offer recordings that imaginatively explore piano repertory.

-- James Manheim, All Music Guide

"As regular readers know, I am skeptical of CDs with themes. But Exiles’ Café, I found, is a good idea. The music, by a variety of composers, writing in different styles, in different periods, does indeed have commonalities: longing, exoticism, wistfulness. I was glad to see my prejudice rebuked... The pianist is Lara Downes...She plays intelligently, sympathetically, and well." -- Jay Nordlinger, New Criterion

"Overall, Exiles’ Café is a set of enthralling solo piano performances which explores the conditions and inspirations that brought the music to life for those exiled composers prevented from returning to their homelands. Lara Downes has created the perfect hyperlink from composer to performer to listener." -- Paula Edelstein, Examiner.com

This music comes from the Exiles’ Café, a place both real and metaphorical where the travelers of the world gather to find a home away from home, a place where journeys converge and histories collide.

The miniatures collected here tell stories of the transformative passage from what is left behind to what is discovered ahead. They speak to vanished worlds and altered lives, to the fragility of destiny and the possibilities of new beginnings: postcards from the Exiles' Café.

Also available: Exiles' Café features the first movement of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's 2nd Piano Sonata. The complete work was recorded and is available as an extended CD single and download.



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Works on This Recording

1. Hungarian folksongs (3) from the Csik district, Sz 35a by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; Budapest, Hungary 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 12 Secs. 
2. Mazurkas (4) for Piano, B 60/Op. 6: no 1 in F sharp minor by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1830; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 31 Secs. 
3. Pieces (3) for Piano, Op. 59: no 3, Pastoral Sonatina in C major by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933-1944 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 4 Minutes 58 Secs. 
4. Dumka for Piano no 2, H 250 by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Czechoslovakia 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 25 Secs. 
5. Dumka for Piano no 3, H 285b by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; New York, USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 40 Secs. 
6. Tango by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 2 Secs. 
7. Prelude for Piano in D minor, Op. posthumous by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1917; Russia 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 4 Secs. 
8. Lost in the Stars: Lost in the stars by Kurt Weill
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 4 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Notes: Arrangement: Jed Distler 
9. Sonata for Piano no 2 in E major, Op. 2: 1st movement, Moderato by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; Vienna, Austria  
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 8 Minutes 48 Secs. 
10. Africa: Land of Romance by William Grant Still
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 6 Minutes 53 Secs. 
11. Preludes (6) for Piano: no 1 by Paul Bowles
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 44 Secs. 
12. Preludes (6) for Piano: no 2 by Paul Bowles
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 0 Secs. 
13. Preludes (6) for Piano: no 3 by Paul Bowles
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 24 Secs. 
14. Preludes (6) for Piano: no 6 by Paul Bowles
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 50 Secs. 
15. Exiles' Cafe: Tango by Michael Sahl
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984; USA 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 3 Minutes 48 Secs. 
16. Rag Caprices (3) for Piano, Op. 78: no 2, Romance by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922; France 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 1 Minutes 50 Secs. 
17. Fragments by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917; Russia 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 3 Secs. 
18. Mazurkas (4) for Piano, Op. 68: no 4 in F minor, B 168 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 12 Secs. 
19. Miniatures (6) for Piano: no 6, Addio by Mohammed Fairouz
Performer:  Lara Downes (Piano)
Date of Recording: 9/2012 
Venue:  Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia 
Length: 2 Minutes 18 Secs. 

Sound Samples

3 Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District, BB 45b: No. 1. Rubato
3 Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District, BB 45b: No. 2. L'istesso tempo
3 Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District, BB 45b: No. 3. Poco vivo
Mazurka No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 6, No. 1
3 Pieces, Op. 59: No. 3. Sonatina pastorale
Dumka No. 2, H. 250
Dumka, H. 285bis
Tango
Prelude in D minor
Lost in the Stars (arr. J. Distler for piano): Lost in the Stars, Act I: Lost In The Stars (arr. J. Distler for piano)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in E major, Op. 2: I. Moderato
Africa (arr. for piano): Africa: II. Land of Romance (arr. for piano)
6 Preludes: No. 1
6 Preludes: No. 2
6 Preludes: No. 3
6 Preludes: No. 6
Tango from Exiles' Cafe
3 Rag Caprices, Op. 78 (version for piano solo): 3 Rag Caprices, Op. 78: No. 2. Romance (version for piano solo)
Fragments
Mazurka No. 49 in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4
Piano Miniature No. 6, "Addio"

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 maybe not for me April 23, 2013 By alex gafford (Midland, GA) See All My Reviews "This CD is very much a concept CD revolving around the notion of an Exile's Cafe and the music that might express the feelings of those who are in exile there. The music is carefully selected from composers of the 19th and 20th century who had in one way or another the experiece of exile. Lara Downes playing is clear and careful and the sound on the Steinway label is excellent. So why does this only get 3 stars from me? Well, it is not due to any intrinsic defect in the concept or production. Rather my imagination just does not connect up this music with the thoughts and feelings of exile. That might happen for someone more imaginative or perhaps I have not listened to the music at the right time and in the right place. In any case, I can't give four stars to a CD I don't expect to listen to very much. If you think you are in a place to make such connections, you will do well to buy the work. If not, then it is just a collection of, on the face of it, unremarkable piano pieces." Report Abuse
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