November 1, 2019

  • Survey of Piano Music by Women


    Hommage to Women Composers
    Ruth Lomon and Iris Graffman Wenglin, piano
    Navona Records 6254
    Total Time:  77:07
    Recording:   (*)***/****
    Performance: ***/****

    Canadian composer and pianist Ruth Lomon is joined here by Iris Graffman Wenglin for an engaging collection of music for piano and piano duo by women composers.  The music here spans some 150 years of music with the bulk of the disc devoted to works from the last half century.

    Wenglin begins the album with two wonderful works by Clara Schumann (1819-1896).  First are the 1832 Caprices and then a brief little Polonaise in Eb (1831) which are excellent examples of the composer’s virtuosic playing and gorgeous melodic writing, equally rivalling that of her husband.  From here we jump almost a century to the music of the Les Six composer Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983).  Her Jeux de Plein Air (1917) is represented by its second movement (“Cache-cache Mitoula” whose fun children’s game is enhance by the work’s exploration of bitonality—an early example of this approach.  Louise Talma (1906-1996) was one of the many wave of composers studying with Nadia Boulanger.  She was the first woman to receive two Guggenheim Awards and the first woman to become a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  She is represented here by one of her first notable works, Four-Handed Fun (1939) which she performed with Lukas Foss at a home concert for Marian MacDowell.  A decade separates this from the next piece on the program, Miriam Gideon’s (1906-1996) Homage a ma jeunesse (1949).  This is one of Gideon’s earlier pieces and the three movement sonatina for two pianos revelas her more relaxed approach to form and variation techniques.

    From works that seem to reflect a focus on youthfulness, we move into more serious thematic pieces.  Barbara Pentland (1912-2000) has a more expressive, lyrical style that then moves into explorations of textures and rhythmic complexity.  These aspects are all on display in her 1958 set of 3 Duets After Pictures of Paul Klee.  A set of variations by Marka Richter (b. 1926) follows with harmonic ideas that are more modal.  A striking fugue is one of the highlights of this work.  Thea Musgrave (b. 1928) takes the listener on a series of Excursions (1965) filled with a great sense of wit as she explores eight different driving scenarios in these brief vignettes.  Ruth Lamon’s own Soundings (1975) is dedicated to Wenglin and is an excellent example of how Lamon explores sounds and rhythm.  Spirales (1974) takes this a step further in Jacqueline Fontyn’s two-movement work.  The gradual incorporation of clustered harmonies begins to take further shape as we move into Maria Ptaszynska’s Two Interludes (1979) where geometric patterns inform the way these sounds and works are organized.  Finally, Shulamit Ran (b. 1949) brings us back to the opening album’s portion of the program with a collection of Children’s Scenes (1970).  These are all quite miniature brushstrokes often lasting less than a minute.

    The album is a collection of recordings made in 1976 and 1978.  These have been remastered.  The performances overall are quite good, there are a few moments where a passage may be a little blurred or less precise, but the general thrust of the program allows one to overlook this.  So much of the music here is hard to find that it is still good to have this collection representing so many fine composers in one place.