July 12, 2021

  • 20th Century French Piano Music


    Bruce Leto, Jr., piano.
    Navona 6308
    Total Time:  23:45
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    Sound Visionaries
    Christina Petrowska Quilico, piano.
    Navona 6358
    Total Time:  69:11
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    In the 20th Century, France became a sort of center for the new modernist musical approaches that built on the Belle Epoque romanticism and salon music coupled with Wagnerian harmonic freedom.  From Impressionism into the Les Six modern styles and exploration of jazz rhythms and harmonies, a number of works for piano helped further expand musical horizons into the era between the World Wars.

    The first album noted here was released in 2020 and focuses mostly on this earlier cmusic with a collection of piano pieces predominantly by Francis Poulenc (seven quite brief piece).  These explore aspects of this salon atmosphere with brushstrokes alluding to European life from “Francaise” (after Gervaise) and “Sicilienne”, a work that pays tribute to Schubert (“Improvisations No. 12 in Eb”), an impromptu (no. 3) and a movement from his Novelettes.  Also included here are two works by Ravel that pay homage to earlier eras and flirt with the composer’s own Neo-Classical bents (Menuet sur le nom de Haydn; Valse: A la manière de Borodine).  These pieces help broaden the European thematic connections on the release which also has some video integration components that can be viewed at Leto’s website: www.brucespianoworks.com.  There is also a newer work by Curt Cacioppo , Ecco Venere, which features an interesting take on the waltz as well in its central section.  Overall, a fine, very brief, downloadable album.

    Also available for download is an album of French piano music that moves us across the 20th Century with works that bear often subtle musical connections in compositional approaches but which build on that of their predecessors.  Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico’s program for Sound and Visionaries explores this quite well.  The program opens with 8 selections from Debussy’s second book of Preludes (1911-12; nos. 1-4, 7-8; 11-12) which explore some of the intriguing approaches to harmony the composer uses along with brilliant pianistic writing.  The more dissonant aspects of some of these preludes shows Debussy moving away from the Impressionist styles into new territory that sets the stage for the ease into more avantgarde styles.  From here, she moves on to 7 movements from Messiaen’s integral Vingt Regards sur ‘enfant Jesus (1944) which expand upon the harmonic palette of Debussy and move us into a more spiritual realm with the mystical qualities connected with this composer’s work.  From here, we move on to the first and third sonatas by Pierre Boulez.  The first sonata, from 1946, moves us into more cerebral composition as he explores dodecaphonic technique.  The third sonata is a more difficult piece in conception requiring a lot more focus and preparation to navigate the labyrinthine music.  Quilico was assisted in her interpretation by the composer himself, which lends this work a bit more authority even with its rather fluid construction.  The Boulez recordings are form live performances and all of these recordings were aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Company.  This digital release will be of interest to fans looking for a bit more dissonance and conceptual 20th-Century work.  The performances are all quite fine and paired with the other album make for a very good overview of French Piano styles.