The pieces on this Indiana composer’s latest omnibus range from the challengingly complex (Duo Concertante) to the playfully complex (Mikrokosmos), and at least once he combines both qualities in the same work (Opus Pocus). Such eclecticism is inevitable—Canfield delights in mixing, matching, and embellishing the multiple styles with which he’s conversant until they’re his own and in wedding them to sometimes fascinating, always interesting themes. And, lest those themes remain opaque, he explicates them in some of the most challengingly and playfully complex liner notes ever written.
At the ripe old age of 21, this British pianist has already taken certain sectors of the “serious” music world by storm, especially those that value creative eclecticism. And therein lies this program’s genius. Beginning with a French Romanticist (Saint-Saëns) and following with a French Impressionist (Ravel), Grosvenor sets the stage, both chronologically and stylistically, for their greatest American legatee. Gershwin, of course, was more than that—and, with the assistance of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Grosvenor illuminates quite a bit of what that “more” was.
The liner notes: “Although Handel was best known for his operas and other large choral works, ... he was [also] an accomplished harpsichordist. …” The pieces under discussion are this album’s second and third selections, Handel’s Harpsichord Suite No. 8 in G major and Suite No. 7 in D minor. And although Gruca’s classical guitar softens the crystalline crispness of the originals, they do so only a little, meanwhile preserving, and arguably even accentuating, their gorgeous Baroque melodies. They also preserve, and arguably even accentuate, the gorgeousness of Gruca’s technique.
Completed four years before Wallace Stevens’ death in 1955 but unrecorded until now, this Vincent Persichetti “song cycle for soprano and piano” applies what Joshua Pierce (the pianist) refers to as a “highly idiosyncratic and modernistic style” to poetry that was already plenty highly idiosyncratic and modernistic to begin with. Pierce plays as if he gets both the composer and the poet. Sherry Overholt (the soprano) sings as if she gets Persichetti. Verdict: a complement to, not a replacement of, the recordings of Stevens simply reading his work.
Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) turns 100 this year. Would its centennial have mattered had its debut not provoked the greatest live-music riot ever, preemptively trumping Dylan’s “going electric” at Newport several times over? One will, of course, never know. But that its notoriety “made” Stravinsky and forced more than one generation of composers to reckon with its impact is indisputable.
Music-appreciation instructors could do worse than require their students to listen to the Sony Masterworks’ anniversary remastered reissue of Leonard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic recording and Simon Rattle’s newly recorded Berliner Philharmoniker rendition (EMI Classics). “Identify the elements of this music,” an assignment might go, “that caused the Parisians who first heard it to consider it inflammatorily audacious.” The problem is, those Parisians were seeing dancers too, dancers whom they also considered inflammatorily audacious, a factor necessarily absent from Bernstein’s and Rattle’s purely audio presentations. As pure audio, however, they’re amazing.