Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico released a collection of interesting French Piano music earlier on the Navona label and now turns her attention to a survey of American music on Retro America (Navona 6361) available as a digital download and on streaming platforms.
The music on this release covers a quite wide gamut of music moving from early avant-garde to jazz. It is interesting to see Henry Cowell's (1897-1965) brief Six Ings (c. 1922) kick off this release. It is an early example of the composer's experiments expanding sound. In this work, Cowell takes a basic interval, the third, but somehow creates a quality that is more atonal. The brevity of each movement (the whole piece takes about 9 minutes) is also in keeping with the short piano works of Webern and Schoenberg, and yet Cowell's rhythmic ideas are still well-rooted in American syncopations. Next up is a movement from Frederick Rzewski's (1938-2021) North American Ballads in its solo version, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (1979) is another example of American avant-garde piano writing. Rzewski liked to take American popular forms (blues, jazz, folk song, etc.) and then merge them into often dense and powerful textures with tone clusters being a common technique as well. His work often shifts from simplicity to complexity and that can be experienced in this piece. George Gershwin is the iconic American composer whose plethora of great songwriting made his wish to be respected as a serious concert composer always elusive. Quilico shifts gears to present a suite of eight of the composer's greatest tunes rather than his Preludes. Of course, one intriguing connection is that Gershwin took some private composition lessons with Cowell. Thus by placing these brief little performances here on the album we have a rather nice overall balance to the opening piece. It also provides even greater context for what the other composer's were familiar with and how that influence was integrated into their music. The performances also seem to be informed by the composer's piano rolls and performance practice/style.
Composer Bill Westcott (b. 1948-), like William Bolcolm, has spent his life exploring jazz and blues forms of the early 20th Century. His little suite features four movements that explore ragtime, blues and boogie woogie. Four pieces by Meredith Monk (b. 1942) move us closer to some of the later developments in music that merges American jazz and concert music. The great jazz pianist Art Tatum (1909-1956) is honored with performances of two jazz standards ("I'll Never Be the Same"; and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore").
The program of Retro Americana is a well-thought out one with music that all has one finger in the pie of early 20th-century musical forms. From the serious to the more popular and accessible styles, Quilico's skill both as an interpreter of lyrical romantic writing, technical virtuosity, and a fine sense of jazz syncopation styles and performance make for a real treat for fans of American music.