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Celebration of the New

Fennimore / Hoover / Crumb
Release Date: 04/09/2013 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1410   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Joseph FennimoreKatherine HooverGeorge CrumbLowell Liebermann
Performer:  Pola BaytelmanJan Vinci
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CELEBRATION OF THE NEW Pola Baytelman (pn); 1 Jan Vinci (fl) ALBANY 1410 (53:26)

FENNIMORE An Old Soft Shoe. HOOVER 1 Medieval Suite for flute and piano. CRUMB A Little Suite for Christmas. LIEBERMANN Read more Gargoyles

Celebration of the New is a slightly vague title for this odd program of modern American chamber music that deals with subjects as disparate as Christmas, medieval life, and cabaret. Bar one piece, the program is of solo piano works that combine a welcome dose of melody and nostalgia with very sophisticated harmonies and techniques. This is most apparent from the charming opener by Joseph Fennimore, An Old Soft Shoe (1977), which builds up from its catchy cabaret theme into a very complex piano study, without ever losing its thread.

A flute is added for Katherine Hoover’s Medieval Suite (1984), her first composition, which portrays five snapshots of 14th-century France. Pleasant throughout, if a little earnest, there is some fine writing for the flute, although the “Drunken Friar” is a bland night out compared to say what Orff did with similar subject matter. Still, the “Demon’s Dance” is suitably thrilling and rounds off this set of miniatures very well.

From that it is quite a lurch into George Crumb’s bizarre but masterful Christmas Suite (1979). Combining strumming effects with heavy pedaled bass chords, it is a workout for the instrument itself. Inspired by Italian murals for the Nativity, these seven miniatures convey a variety of images, from the rocking of the baby Jesus, to the manic energy of the Nativity Dance . Amidst this extreme exploration of the piano’s capabilities, fragments of melody come and go in this sea of broken chords and harmonies. Although the most difficult work on the album, it remains accessible, with that little flicker of Eastern harmony towards the end adding yet another intriguing layer.

Gorgoyles (1989) by Lowell Liebermann returns us to more normal musical territory, although there is nothing that frightening here about these portraits of the stone figures that are built to disperse rain water. In fact water imagery is what dominates the pretty first movement, an endless series of droplets getting ever busier. Then solace with the utterly beautiful Adagio Semplice (definitely a potential classical hit, if marketed), a true jewel of a piece. Comparisons with Debussy are almost too obvious but there is that stillness and simplicity, as well as a playfulness that reflects back onto the first piece on this program.

This whole disc is far more memorable than I was expecting and I think there is genuine popular appeal to be found, if only it could be marketed more. Pola Baytelman’s playing is a busy delight throughout, as is the brief contribution from Jan Vinci on flute. Albany’s sound is bright and forward, notes are short but to the point and interesting, much like the pieces themselves. Delightful.

FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

An Old Soft Shoe by Joseph Fennimore
Performer:  Pola Baytelman (Piano)
Medieval Suite by Katherine Hoover
Performer:  Pola Baytelman (Piano), Jan Vinci (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979-1980; USA 
A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979 by George Crumb
Performer:  Pola Baytelman (Piano)
Gargoyles, Op. 29 by Lowell Liebermann
Performer:  Pola Baytelman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 

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