Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: Nos. 1, 2. 3 Pieces for Piano
Gary Smart (pn)
ALBANY TROY1162 (60:01)
The solo piano music of Gary Smart is complex, but it is not dense. His voice is informed by a lifetime of influences, with a delightful indifference to any single tradition, except, perhaps, a kind of American tradition of iconoclasm, however ironic that may seem. But it is a distinctive voice, imbued by homage to his heroes, but never imitative. He tends to use relatively conventional frameworks to support his material.
The piano sonatas are essentially classically structured, although the Sonata No.1 includes four movements rather than the usual three. The first movements of both are ambitiously architectural, in the manner of Beethoven. He may well have called the first movement of Sonata No. 1 Maestoso, with its grand, declarative opening and measured recapitulations. There are slow movements within, a scherzo, and both sonatas end with forms that evoke classical antecedents: a kind of rondo for No. 1, and a motoric presto for No. 2. Smart titles his movements, suggesting that his musical, literary, and personal influences transcend the technical parameters of his work. Thus, the first movement of the Sonata No. 1 is
, a tribute to his time in Japan, incorporating elements of gamelan music. The last movement of the Sonata No. 2 is
, inspired by such jazz pianists as Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, or, for that matter, the Woody Woodpecker theme song. As the composer remarks in his notes, “What could be more American than that?” The three short pieces are more overtly in a jazz mode, albeit light-hearted and whimsical.
Smart is a terrific pianist (he trained to be a concert pianist before he studied composition), which you can hear even though this is not standard repertoire and therefore not subject to comparison. His rich tone, quicksilver fingerwork in embellishments and other delicate writing, and, chiefly, his buoyant and natural pulse are all the marks of a superior technician. Recorded sound is excellent, natural and full-bodied, which is also a good description of this compelling and uniquely expressive music.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
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