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American Piano Concertos
George Gershwin, Victoria Bond, Jeffrey Hass
American Piano Concertos
Genre: Classical
 

      
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Two Works Tried and True; One Memorable & One Forgettable Ne
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 11/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This CD contains two familiar works for piano and orchestra: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and his Variations on 'I Got Rhythm', and two unfamiliar fairly new works: Victoria Bond's 'Ancient Keys' and Jeffrey Hass's 'Concerto for Amplified Piano and Wind Ensemble.'

First, the good news. The two Gershwin pieces are given quite nice performances. And let it never be said that European orchestras can't play Gershwin. The Slovak Radio Orchestra under Kirk Trevor do a heckuva job. The opening clarinet schmear is played as well as I've ever heard it. (Could a Slovakian clarinetist really do it this well? Apparently so.) And pianist Paul Barnes does an idiomatic, even swinging, job with the solo parts.

The bad news: Victoria Bond's 'Ancient Keys', written for pianist Barnes, is as meretricious a piece of claptrap as I've heard in many a day. It is a set of variations, more or less, on a Greek Orthodox chant, 'Potirion Sotiriu', which Barnes had sung for her at some point. (In his booklet biography it is noted that in addition to his position as professor of piano at the University of Nebraska he is also 'head chanter' at an Orthodox church in Lincoln.) The piece begins with (presumably) the pianist chanting the tune. This is followed by seventeen minutes of orchestration without much in the way of structural, melodic or other interest. Bond is clearly a good orchestrator but in this instance, at least, she shows herself unable to do much with the chant tune except repeat it ad nauseam clothed in orchestrator's tricks like bitonal arpeggios and bell sounds.

Jeffrey Hass is professor of composition at the University of Indiana. His concerto for amplified piano and wind ensemble features Barnes and the Indiana University Wind Ensemble under Ray Cramer; they all play marvelously. The Hass work is a good deal more interesting than the Bond. He says 'it doesn't take many wind instruments combined to cover a traditional piano's voice', hence the amplification of the piano. Truth to tell, one is not really terribly aware that the piano is amplified. The concerto is in three sections: 'Signals', 'Remembrance', and 'Running with Scissors'. 'Signals' opens with a stylized Morse code section which Hass says was influenced by Richard Rodgers' use of code in his groundbreaking score for the NBC documentary 'Victory at Sea.' The movement is more or less a toccata for piano and orchestra and is quite effective. 'Remembrance' was written in the aftermath of the composer's father's death and consists mainly of slow, repetitive, chorale-like passages underlying canonic writing for the piano. 'Running with Scissors' (great title!) begins without pause after the second movement and is, not surprisingly, a metrically catchy, even breathless tour de force with extremely virtuosic writing for the piano. I quite liked this work and it grew on me with each repetition.

So, this is three-fourths of a good CD. I was delighted to hear the Gershwins done so well, happy to make the acquaintance of the Hass, and irritated by the simplemindedness of the Bond.

Scott Morrison"