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Stecher & Horowitz Commissions

Release Date: 02/16/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30079
Composer:  Lowell Liebermann ,  Michael Torke ,  Gabriela Lena Frank ,  Avner Dorman  ...  Performer:  Aristo Sham ,  Charlie Albright ,  Daniel Kim ,  Mackenzie Melemed  ... 

Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz, the acclaimed American piano duo known as Stecher & Horowitz since 1951, are equally celebrated in the world of music education. Their biannual New York International Piano Competition has recognized some of the best young pianists of our time. The competition has also commissioned original works from important composers of our day. These works are presented on this album, some for the first time, performed by some of the notable prize-winners of the competition. Also included is the premiere recording of the two-piano version of Walter Piston’s Concerto for Two Pianos, written for Stecher & Horowitz.

Album Credits:
Recorded January 16-17 and March 5, 2017 at Steinway
Read more Hall, New York City.
Producer: Jon Feidner
Engineer: Lauren Sturm
Editing: Kazumi Umeda
Assistant Engineer: Melody Nieun Hwang
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Piano Technician: Lauren Sturm
Piano: Steinway Model D #597590 (New York) and #519960 (Hamburg)
The Competition Egg by Theo Fabergé, Created for The New York International Competition 

Duo pianists Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz joined forces in 1951. Later in their career they established their own foundation and created the New York International Piano Competition, which has launched the careers of quite a few young pianists. The competition, unlike others, has also commissioned original works, and some of those are presented here. It would seem a no-brainer that new music helps to renew a tradition, but having music and performance proceed hand in hand like this is a rare thing. The performers are young New York International Piano Competition prize-winners, and to a one they find the music sympathetic. Standouts are Mackenzie Melamed's performance of Avner Dorman's Three Etudes, which bring real piano-friendly virtuosity to a modern Ligeti-like idiom, and the Concerto for Two Pianos Soli of Walter Piston (not a competition-commissioned work but one written for Stecher and Horowitz themselves), which is richly in need of revival. But the whole program is enjoyable, accessible, and varied. Recommended, with fine Steinway Hall sound.

-- AllMusic Guide

"An album of complete discovery for those who don’t know these pianists or works. The only three composers whose names I recognized were Gabriela Lena Frank, John Musto and Piston, so it was as much an adventure of discovery for me as it might well be for you. And of course, since I’ve not heard any of these pianists before, they were as much a discovery for me as the music itself.

First up is Lowell Liebermann’s 2 Impromptus, written in 2016. This is tonal music with bitonal twists and turns that pique interest and force you to listen. In the notes, Liebermann stats that this was his intention, to create music that required musicality, phrasing and a wide range of dynamics, not the usual “knuckle-busting” pieces that young keyboardists love to use to show off. I found this music very engaging, and would say that pianist Aristo Sham is a real and sensitive artist...

Michael Torke’s Bays of Huatulco, which has since undergone a name change to Blue Pacific, was written in 2006 to commemorate his memories of that scenario in Mexico where “The sun shines without fail…and an ever-present breeze blows off the water.” This has a sort of pop-music rhythm reminiscent of Carole King, although with a busier and more complex top line that includes rapid, swirling triplets. It’s a nice piece, however, nicely played by Charlie Albright.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Nocturno Nazqueño is described by the composer as evoking “one of the ancient cultures of South America, the Nazcas,” who “left behind gigantic geoglyphs on the coast of modern Peru sometime between 500 BC and 500 AD”—quite a range to choose from, a thousand years! The music is quintessential Frank, moody and evocative, drawing one’s attention via her use of shifting moods and figures which keeps the music in a state of flux. It is well played by Daniel Kim although, to my ears, without much in the way of subtlety.

Avner Dorman chose Ligeti as his musical model, and his 3 Études of 2012 are described as “precisely fashioned and fantastical, as well as technically demanding.” The titles of the three pieces are “Snakes and Ladders,” “Funeral March” and “Sundrops Over Windy Walters.” The first of these is utterly fantastic, the “ladders” being scales that run in a wobbling motion and the “snakes” being lopsided chord changes. The performer here is Mackenzie Melemed, who won the 2012 prize for best performance of a commissioned work. Somehow I get the impression that this is the work that wowed the judges. Melemed’s coordination of both hands in this frighteningly difficult work is beyond description; you simply have to hear it to believe it. The music is impressive as études, to be sure; I’d have been lost trying to coordinate this bad boy! In “Funeral March,” the music is comprised of a series of dense but clear chords…challenging to play but to my ears less impressive as music. The finale, however, is a piece in a blistering tempo that calls for such a rapid switching and overlay of hands that it becomes a challenge just to keep the notes from becoming blurred. I was deeply impressed by Melemed’s articulation in this piece. No wonder he won a prize!

Musto’s Improvisation and Fugue is played by Leann Osterkamp. The improvisation section is described as being blues-influenced, but alas Osterkamp has no feeling for blues or jazz rhythm, though she plays it very well otherwise. Musto doesn’t indicate in the notes whether any part of the score is actually improvised by the performer, but I’d assume not; it doesn’t really sound it to me. A shame, because in the hands of, say, Aruán Ortiz, this could be a very interesting piece. As for the fugue, it, too has elements of syncopation in it, played just as mechanically as the opening piece (although Musto says the fugue was written first).

Michael Brown’s Suite is played by Anna Han, first prize winner of the 2012 competition. The music also contains a lot of syncopation, but more in a classical than a jazz vein. It’s pretty interesting rhythmically, but in terms of development fairly predictable; the last movement, simply titled “Finale,” is the most concisely written. It is, however, a pleasant piece to hear, and Han plays it with both sensitivity and a brilliant technique.

The album ends with Walter Piston’s rearrangement for two pianos of his 1967 2-piano concerto. This is clearly great music, written by one of America’s best composers of the past century. It is played brilliantly here by Matthew Graybil and Larry Weng, with intermittent moments of sensitive phrasing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, the last movement in particular."

-- The Art Music Lounge

In 1951, Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz began their piano duo partnership. They performed together for nearly five decades. In 1960 they founded and directed a school of arts in New York, and they have edited and published a comprehensive series of teaching material. Their foundation’s New York International Piano Competition has commissioned a number of works, and these are joined on this disc by a premiere performance of the two-piano version (no orchestra) of Walter Piston’s Concerto for 2 Pianos, written for Stecher and Horowitz. The pianists here are some of the notable prize-winners of the competition, and without exception they are an impressive group of artists.

This was all new music for me even though I have heard music by all but three of the composers. Some of the pieces were written to challenge the most virtuosic of pianists, like Avner Dorman’s Etudes, modeled after Ligeti. I am astounded by Melemed’s performance here. He was the 2012 winner for best performance of a commissioned work. Liebermann’s Impromptus, as the composer wrote, were to show off the pianist’s musicality. Shan, the 2016 competition winner, also won the best performance of a commissioned work. Bays of Huatulco, with its easy-going Latin rhythms, is melodic and a beautiful evocation of the famous Mexican resort area.

The big piece here is the Piston, commissioned by Stecher and Horowitz and premiered by them in 1964. Piston wrote “I had the notion that a version for two solo pianos would enable them to play it more often, and in places where a symphony orchestra is not available… I did not wish to make an ‘arrangement’, but rather a rethinking of the entire score in terms of two solo instruments, so that the two versions stand as separate and individual works.” 2004 and 2006 competition winners Graybil and Weng give a performance that the first duo to play both versions must have been exceptionally pleased with. It is a very enjoyable composition, and now want to hear the orchestral version.

The recording quality and booklet are up to Steinway’s high standards. This is a fascinating collection of well performed piano music, all premiere recordings, that should appeal to almost everyone.

-- American Record Guide

The attraction of this disc will be for those who love great piano sound and are interested in hearing original works for piano. The performers are winners of the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation’s biennial New York International Piano Competition. Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz started as a professional piano duo in 1951 and performed recitals together for the next five decades in the United States and many other countries. These concerts were sponsored by the National Concert and Artists Corporation/Civic Music, Columbia Artists Management/Community Concerts, and the United States State Department. In 1960 they established their School of the Arts that later became the Foundation named after the duo. The purpose of the Foundation was to provide artistic development, educational enhancement, seminars, master classes and performance opportunities for pianists.

The Two Impromptus of Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961) are melodic and subtle, music that, as Liebermann states, “deal in shades of dynamics…and require great subtlety of dynamic control, color and rubato, while asking the performer to execute daunting polyrhythmic combinations as they maintain a placid and lyrical line.” Ariosto Sham plays beautifully. It’s attractive music that would make an excellent recital opener. Michael Torke’s Blue Pacific conveys a picture seen from a cliff side overlooking the Pacific Ocean with the sun sparkling on the water under balmy temperatures. The music effectively reflects the romantic scene.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Nocturno Nazqueno (2014) portrays the gigantic geoglyphs that the ancient culture of the Nazcas (500BC to 500AD) left on the coast of Peru. Frank imagines the images of birds and monkeys dancing at night as a supplicant to their gods. Pianist Daniel Kim performs the playful scene with brilliance and tenderness. Three Etudes (2012) by Avner Dorman (b. 1975) is a finger busting exercise that is “precisely fashioned and fantastical as well as technically demanding, writes Paul Griffiths. The demands of the magical and mercurial “Sundrops Over Windy Waters” is deftly met by pianist Mackenzie Melemed.

John Musto’s (b. 1954) Improvisation and Fugue (2008) is infused with “lyrical and brooding blues,” tangy tangos and a jazzy wild presto. Pianist Leann Osterkamp masters the style with aplomb. Michael Brown’s (b. 1987) Suite for Piano (2013) is filled with variety: a playful Prelude, a pensive Chant, and an extroverted and witty “Fugue” and “Finale.”

The major work is Walter Piston’s Concerto for Two Pianos Soli (1967). It’s a second version (for two pianos) of his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra that was initially commissioned by Stecher and Horowitz in 1964. It’s melodic, neo-classical music that the duo played in their recitals. In the first movement, the two pianos dance in opposition and collaboration, highlighting Piston’s contrapuntal skills and architectural mastery. The quiet and affecting adagio is followed by a glittering and vivacious Con spirito. Larry Weng and Matthew Grabil are inside Piston’s mid-twentieth century sound world.

What makes this and other recordings so acoustically perfect is Steinway Hall in New York City and their world famous pianos. The balance between clarity and reverberation reproduces the live concert experience while providing musical clarity.

-- Audiophile Audition Read less