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From The Early 20th... / Andrew Rangell

Release Date: 08/17/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30100
Composer:  Carl Nielsen ,  George Enescu ,  Arnold Schoenberg ,  Charles Ives Performer:  Andrew Rangell

Long recognized as among the most eloquent and insightful interpreters of the major keyboard works of Bach and Beethoven, pianist Andrew Rangell has drawn acclaim for a variety of recordings, ranging from the music of Sweelinck, Farnaby, and Gibbons to that of Janacek, Enescu, Nielsen, Bartok, Valen, Christian Wolff, and many others. The present recording ( Mr. Rangell's 30th disc ) is a beautiful homage to Ives' Concord Sonata.

R E V I E W S:

Here’s another interesting piano recital issued by Steinway & Sons, this time a collection of early 20th-century works. Ives’ massive “Concord” Sonata, of course, occupies the largest section of this disc, and only New York City concert audiences of the early 21st
Read more century would still consider Carl Nielsen to be too “avant-garde” for them, but by and large this recital lives up to its title.

...Andrew Rangell does not play his music in a subjective, moody style, but rather objectively and tersely, emphasizing the music’s structure. This works particularly well in the Nielsen pieces, which as it happens I had not heard before. These were clearly written in his prime, after the String Quartet in F and the Fifth Symphony, containing many of the same somewhat Stravinskian harmonies and rhythmic devices, but filtered through his own personal aesthetic. Rangell does an excellent job bringing this out in the music. In the last piece, Nielsen revels in some mirror-image writing, creating a somewhat lumbering bass line and having the right play in the opposite direction!

George Enescu’s Carillon Nocturne is a bitonal work in which he emulates bell effects. These are attenuated by the fact that the two hands are not always entirely in synch, which creates a sound like bells playing against one another. Rangell’s approach to the two Schoenberg pieces, interestingly, is close to the way Li played Schumann: a bit of rhythmic “play” in the music which emphasizes the atonality in a different sort of way.

Like most modern pianists, Rangell interprets the Ives sonata with a more naturally pianistic feel and legato flow to it, considerably different from the composer’s own interpretation and that of his favorite interpreter of this sonata, John Kirkpatrick. Of course, the sonata can take several different interpretations, as witness Donna Coleman’s superb recording of two decades ago, and Rangell is fully up to the music’s almost grotesque technical demands. Nonetheless, by bringing its rhythmic feel more in line with the Schoenberg I believe that Rangell is on the wrong track. This robs the music of its quintessentially “American” feel and flow, which was meant to be almost anti-European tradition. You be the judge, however; you may feel entirely different about it. I am just giving you my perspective based on my years of experience in hearing and evaluating this score. Certainly, Rangell does a good job of bringing out the music’s structure somewhat better than Ives and Kirkpatrick did. And there’s an interesting alternative ending: in the last movement (“Thoreau”), in place of the alternate flute part, Rangell whistles the flute line along with his own playing.

All in all, however, an interesting program, well executed in a thoughtful manner.

-- Lynn René Bayley, Art Music Lounge

American pianist Andrew Rangell has specialized in the Ives Piano Sonata No. 2 ("Concord") for many years, performing an unorthodox interpretation that may strike listeners in different ways. He alters the score in ways that somehow seem sympathetic to the music: for the optional flute part in the finale, he whistles, an effect that one suspects Ives would have loved. In general he conveys the sonata's tone, which is at once ecstatic and reflective toward the musical past. Even those less enamored of his approach may profitably experience this release on the U.S. Steinway & Sons label, which seems uniquely suited to Rangell's novel concepts and idiosyncratic but charismatic approach. The tendency among American listeners has been to regard Ives as a figure working in majestic isolation, but Rangell instead groups him with other composers "from the early 20th," as his album's title has it. As usual with Rangell, not everybody is going to accept his conclusions, but he makes a persuasive case. Ives, in his view, drew on a strain of thinking that was transcendental (and not just Transcendentalist), and that appealed to European composers as well. It might manifest itself in an assault on tonality (Schoenberg, but certainly Ives as well), vivid tone painting (sample the lovely and little-known Carillon Nocturne of Enescu, which seems to quote the Beethoven "fate" motif that also appears in Ives' "Alcotts" movement), and a wholesale rethinking of classical forms (as in the Nielsen Three Pieces for piano, Op. 59). You might raise objections to each of these lines of thinking, but these are all works Ives might have known, and the end result is to make you hear the "Concord" sonata in a new way, which is a considerable achievement. Recommended.

-- AllMusic Guide
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