Fanfare

This is an intriguing collection of so-called American piano music. My qualifier refers to the fact that Miklós Rózsa was born and trained in Hungary, even though his classic Hollywood film scores ( Ben Hur, El Cid , et. al.) make him seem like a red-blooded American. In any case, his excellent Sonata is decidedly old world, completely drenched with the spirit of fellow Hungarian Bartók. This is not to say that he is being imitative, but that they draw from the same Magyar folk sources. Pianist Seivewright, in his informative notes, writes that Rózsa’s “serious” music deserves greater attention. If this powerful, tautly conceived Sonata is a good representative of that output, I would agree.

The 1945 Elliott Carter Sonata is a pivotal work in the creative life of our centenarian master, American in a kind of Ivesian way, but pointing towards the more prickly modernism that would mark the vast range of his career. Seivewright approaches the work from a contemporary perspective, emphasizing the angularity and abstraction of the work. It is an interesting contrast to the much more lyrical approach of Charles Rosen, on his essential collection of Carter piano music on the Bridge label. Rosen makes the music more accessible, but both ways are valid. Seivewright certainly has the imprimatur of the composer, who called an earlier performance of his Sonata by the pianist “most remarkable, breathtaking.” My personal touchstone for this great music is the reading of the outstanding young American pianist Jeremy Denk, whom I have heard play it in concert twice, each time absolutely flooring his audience with the power and comprehension of his vision. He has not recorded it yet, but it is just a matter of time.

Edward MacDowell’s music strikes me as pompous and bangy, qualities exacerbated by Seivewright’s metallic tonality (or is it the recording?). As a period piece, exemplifying American art music in a formative time, it is interesting and even somewhat touching. It works well as a companion to the contrasting music on the riveting and energetic program.

—Peter Burwasser