Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Appealing and engaging piano music

The music of Paul Bowles has never received anything close to the amount of attention his writings have, and I fear that even on the literary side his star is fading a bit since the brief flurry of interest around the release of Bernardo Bertolucci's film of The Sheltering Sky in 1990. (I couldn't believe it was that long ago; the film seems very fresh in my memory.)

To test that theory I went to Google Trends, and things are indeed trending down for Bowles:

There's some good news, though, in Related Searches, with "Paul Bowles - Composer" on top.

(By the way the search for "Bowles Simpson" sends one to stories about fiscal responsibility and debt reduction. I was afraid I had missed a guest appearance by Paul Bowles on The Simpsons before his death in 1999.)

This new CD, due to be released in April 2016, and its companion volume 2 due later this year, should put a small boost in the reputation of Bowles' music, which certainly deserves much more attention. The excellent Invencia Piano Duo, who I know from the excellent Grand Piano series of duo piano music by Florent Schmitt, are Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn. The two divide the pieces between them, and play together in arrangements of songs for four hands, and in Bowles' most important piano work, the Sonata for Two Pianos. The highlight in the Sonata is the middle Molto tranquillo movement which maintains a careful balance between shifting atmospherics, hinting at various American popular styles as Bowles quite often does, and a more serious, deeper, darker sense of dread and foreboding.

Other than this the disc is taken up by shorter and less substantial works, many of which are character-pieces in the style of Schumann or Granados or Ravel; folk-like impressions like Villa-Lobos's Guia pratico or Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances; or actual arrangements by Bowles of American and Latin American folk songs. Some are short portraits of his fellow composers Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, George Antheil, Israel Citkowitz and Leonard Bernstein. Included in the program are two tributes to Bowles: by Bernstein and Thomson. These are all charming. Bowles also paints musical pictures of his friends Bruce Morrissette from America and Paris, Constance Askew from New York, and Kay Cowen from Paris and Morocco. It was Cowen who introduced Bowles to the poet Tristan Tzara. The sum of all this is greater than its parts. It adds up to an appealing picture of an engaging and subtle mind drawing sharply-etched musical pictures. I'm looking forward to the next volume!

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