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George Antheil: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; a Jazz Symphony; Jazz Sonata
George Antheil, Eiji Oue, NDR Philharmonic Orchestra (Hannover)
George Antheil: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; a Jazz Symphony; Jazz Sonata
Genres: Dance & Electronic, Special Interest, Classical
 

      
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CD Reviews

Funny, Saucy, Jazzy Piano Music Done with Panache
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 04/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I've been neither hot nor cold about the music of Antheil's I've heard before. And I wasn't prepared to like this issue all that much. But it knocked my socks off. I tend to like French-influenced music from early in the twentieth-century and these pieces certainly fill that bill. There is the clarity of texture, quartal harmonies, and insouciance so common in music of Ravel and Les Six. But, more, these works are quintessentially American in the impression they make. One hears echoes of Copland and Bernstein (although the latter came after the pieces heard here -- one wonders if the dance music for 'West Side Story' was influenced by Bernstein's familiarity with the Jazz Symphony). Another composer whose jazzy solo piano music comes to mind is Erwin Schulhoff. And finally there are echoes of Kurt Weill's intentionally awkward, loose-jointed style in places. Altogether marvelous stuff, this music; I'm grateful to cpo for issuing this disc.

It is rare that music makes me laugh out loud, but I guffawed a number of times, especially in the solo piano pieces -- Jazz Sonata, Can-Can, Sonatina, Death of Machines, and Little Shimmy -- by the unexpectedly eccentric rhythms and harmonies, all jazz-inflected. The same is a little less so in the two piano concertos and the Jazz Symphony (which is a piano concerto in all but name because of the important obbligato piano part).

German pianist Markus Becker, with whom I was unfamiliar, has the full measure of these pieces and he is given expert support by the NDR Radio Philharmonic under Eiji Oue. There is an immediacy to the recorded sound that is lifelike.

TT=65:38

Scott Morrison"
A mixed bag
Darby G. Fegan | 02/14/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I am a fan of Antheil's music, having played some of his shorter piano works, thus I was eager to hear his Piano Concerti. All in all, I was dissapointed with the two concerti, mostly for their lack of thematic and melodic appeal. I find them rather dry and academic. I would have much preferred the "bad boy" Antheil to have written these concerti. The concerti are undoubtedly well scored and laid out for the pianist, and they do contain many novel ideas, but on the whole, the impression is rather "ho hum." There are many borrowings from Stravinsky, especially from Petrushka, as well as Bartok and the French school in these two concerti. The other selections on the CD are far more enjoyable. The Jazz Symphony is a delight. I love the surrealistic amalgam of dance forms and tunes strung together in this short work. It is vulgar and irreverent in the best sense. The short piano pieces are in a similar vein with the exception of the Sonatina, which I find, again, a work lacking in thematic inspiration."
Tuneful Jazz Inspired Music
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 01/21/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The works on this disc are from George Antheil's "ultramodern" period when he wanted to make as big a splash as possible in the post World War I music world. From the outset of his career in Europe, Antheil set out to be a pianist-composer. From his first recital in London in 1922 he concluded his concerts of Chopin, Debussy with his own ultra modern works. There were various reactions to Antheil's machine-like rhythms from admiration to riots.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 was written in Berlin in 1922 and was influenced by the music of Igor Stravinsky. The concerto is a mix of astringent rhythms and percussive effects mixed with more reflective passages. The orchestration is very effective and Antheil uses a xylophone, gong and includes jazzy elements that make the concerto quite an original work aside from his homage to Stravinsky.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 comes from 1926 and has a more lyrical approach than the earlier work. The concerto is a neoclassical homage to Bach, utilizing the keyboard music as inspiration. It is scored for a small orchestra and consists of three movements played together: overture, aria and toccata. The influence of Stravinsky is present but I also think of the French music of the period as well. There are almost too many ideas in the concerto that makes it a bit disorganized, as if Antheil just linked his melodies without care. Overall, the Second Concerto may not have the drive of the first but the music is cheerful with an abrupt ending when the music just stops.

The Jazz Symphony was written in 1924 but the version recorded here is from 1955 when Antheil expanded the orchestration. It was the composer's contribution to George Whiteman's "Second Experiment in Modern Music" in 1925. Rather than jazz, the symphony seems more influenced by Latin American melodies, a bit like the ballet Capital of the World.

There follows a selection of George Antheil's piano music nicely played by Markus Becker. The Jazz Sonata and Can-can are playful pieces that are not at all ultra modern. The Sonatina is likewise a work more rooted in traditional piano literature. Death of the machines is more experimental while the short Little Shimmy is a seductive and sexy piece written with his future wife Boski in mind, with whom he was living with in Paris.

The concertos are well-played by Markus Becker and he is ably supported by the NDR Radiophilharmonie under Eiji Oue. I liked having the two concerti together on one disc and the mix of piano music. The booklet has a lengthy biography of Antheil that I find wordy and in need of a more straightforward presentation of the music. This is a great disc for anyone interested in George Antheil's music. For an introduction to his music I would recommend the symphonies that are also available of the cpo label.
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