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Barber, Carter, Griffes, Zaimont / Drew Petersen

Release Date: 07/20/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30095
Composer:  Charles Tomlinson Griffes ,  Charles Ives ,  Elliott Carter ,  Judith Lang Zaimont  ...  Performer:  Drew Petersen

In his young career, American Pianist Drew Petersen has achieved some of the highest musical honors, including top prize from the 2017 American Pianists Awards and a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant. This recital, a daunting showcase of American piano works, is a glimpse of his remarkable musicianship.

R E V I E W:

"A really stunning, full-bodied sound makes this disc shine. Petersen showcases American piano works with superb technique and measured voicing."

-- BBC Music Magazine

This excellent recital assembles music by five American composers, Griffes, Ives, Carter, Zaimont and Barber, into a thoughtful program consisting of three major works and two shorter ones. First
Read more the small stuff. Ives’ The Alcotts is the least challenging movement of the Concord Sonata. While it would be great to hear have the complete work, this brief portrait receives a beautifully shaped, lyrical reading that justifies hearing it in isolation. It also works well in context, as a bridge between the larger works by Griffes and Carter.

Judith Lang Zaimont’s Attars consists of five brief vignettes named after fragrances, and the most interesting thing about them is their titles. I find music about things that music can’t possibly express especially tiresome, even when brief. I assume Petersen plays the music well, but have no desire to hear it again. You may feel differenty.

There’s no question that Petersen has fully mastered the major works, which he has chosen wisely in order to offer a wide range of expressive idioms. Griffes’ Three Fantasy Pieces sound like slightly more muscular Debussy, and they are wholly lovely. Elliott Carter’s Sonata is a marvelous work, typically complex but not yet adopting the composer’s later, thornier harmonic idiom. Petersen flings himself at the thickets of notes with enthusiasm, sustaining a high level of intensity and engaging the attention throughout. It’s a very fine performance.

Barber’s single sonata is equally well done. Petersen’s tempos are generally slower than in Horowitz’s classic reading, but you could argue that the music benefits from the additional breathing room, especially in the concluding fugue. Certainly the quicker movements lack for nothing in terms of sheer excitement. Excellent sonics round out this thoroughly recommendable release.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday

Drew Petersen is currently a candidate in the Artist Diploma program at the Juiliiard School, studying under Robert McDonald. His career is already well underway, with a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the 2017 American Pianists Award. This first disc excites me almost beyond words – American composers. The same program, in concert, was reviewed Jan/Feb 2018. It includes the Barber Sonata, ‘Alcotts’ from Ives’s Concord Sonata, the Carter Sonata, the 2017 Attars of Judith Lang Zaimont, and Griffes’s Fantasy Pieces.

I wasn’t prepared for the depth and maturity of the playing. Let me use the Barber as an example. I’ve been looking for a great performance of this for years. This one comes as close as I’m likely to get. The expression is right and his technique more than adequate for its considerable challenges. What impresses me most is his ability to internalize Barber’s style and make each phrase sound as inevitable as in a Beethoven sonata. Things make sense – expressive and compositional – in ways they never have before. And his careful control of the often thick textures of the piece makes it possible to hear a level of detail that escapes most pianists. I don’t agree with his cool approach to the Barber’s closing measures, but never mind: this is a performance altogether worthy of the music, and I’m looking forward to listening to it again.

The same holds for the rest of the program – even the Carter, which I have in the past admired if not loved. (I wish Petersen would play Night Fantasies!) And I also want to recommend this for the outstanding new Zaimont work. A pianist herself she knows how to write beautifully for the instrument, and her music consistently surprises and moves me.

-- American Record Guide

Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s Three Fantasy Pieces are most winning. Although indebted to Debussy (and some say Scriabin), I find them strongly original. Contrary to at least one previous Fanfare review, I do recognize a personality in much of Griffes’s music: strength of character, honesty, and a gentle but insistent striving. The Fantasy Pieces (Barcarolle, Notturno, Scherzo) are not on a level with his late masterworks—the Piano Sonata and Three Poems of Fiona McCloud—but they are colorful, almost cozy, and recognizably Griffes.

Now that we are on everyday terms with the “Concord” Sonata, “The Alcotts” feels a bit lost without “Emerson,” “Hawthorne,” and “Thoreau.” Drew Peterson’s playing is clean and crisp, avoiding the bathos some pianists have found in “The Alcotts.”

Elliott Carter’s sonata is the surprise joy of this recital. Written at the moment Carter was turning from his early Romanticism toward his own complex brand of serialism, it is a delight. Leading gently from tonality into bitonality (but never atonality), it could be a bridge from Griffes to Ives—pace the dates in question. (Ives had provided the teenage Carter with guidance and encouragement.) Two lengthy movements, Maestoso - Legato scorrevole and Andante - Allegro giusto, give the impression of the canonical four. The finale is reminiscent of Ives’s two marching bands coming together. English composer/critic Bayan Northcott in The New Grove Dictionary of American Music observes: “In the fine Piano Sonata (1945/46) he accordingly attempted to free himself from traditional schemata by deriving his compositional substance from the interrelationships of the tone-color and playing technique of the instrument itself. The hierarchal superimpositions of octaves, 5ths, 4ths, and 3rds that comprise the work’s harmony embody the characteristic overtone resonances of the piano....The magnificent secondmovement fugue is similarly evolved out of, and dissolved back into, the fundamental chords.” That’s a bit deep for me, but it fits with what I hear. Peterson not only fills the sonata with warmth but glides through the fugue as if it were child’s play, capturing the almost Bernstein-like rhythms that were in the New York air in 1945.

Judith Lang Zaimont’s Attars are five: “Roses,” “Musk,” “Pink Lotus,” “Jasmine,” and “Frangipani,” each more or less two minutes. Relating odors to music seems like something Scriabin would do (did?), and there is a hint of the Russian in a few places—likewise of Debussy. I can’t make the connections: “Musk” is anything but strong. “Pink Lotus” (an odor I’m not familiar with) is comparatively hard and harsh. “Jasmine” becomes powerfully exotic. “Frangipani” becomes harmonically complex—is there some bitonality there?

For Samuel Barber’s sonata, we are accustomed to powerhouse performances by Horowitz and Cliburn. Peterson, by choice or from need, takes a subtler course, which suits the sonata well. While I wouldn’t be without the big boys, Peterson’s is a valuable alternative view.

Peterson plays a New York Steinway D at Steinway Hall. The fine instrument is typical of its breed: full in the bass, solid and warm through the middle, a bit dry and tinkly in the top half octave. The comfortably reverberant recorded sound is superb. This is a lovely disc in every way, and a keeper for the Carter.

-- James H. North, Fanfare

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