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A Folk Song Runs Through It / Andrew Rangell

Release Date: 07/30/2013
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30018
Composer:  Leo? Janá?ek ,  Béla Bartók ,  Zoltán Kodály Performer:  Andrew Rangell Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo

Album Credits:
Recorded May, 2012 at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts.
Producer: Andrew Rangell
Recording engineer: Tom Stephenson
Editing/mastering: Brad Michel

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Oberlander Group
Piano Technician: Christine Lovgren
Piano: Steinway Model D #586518 (New York)

“A free-thinker among pianists – a master of graded dynamics and the long crescendo. Rangell's consistently provocative playing and ideas are so interesting that we can hardly keep ourselves from appreciating them.”

-- International Record Review

Read more practices a light, often delicate touch on the piano, an approach that serves him well in the slower, airier scores. Nevertheless, he maintains a good deal of power in reserve, making his technique not only dramatically virtuosic but uncommonly sensitive and diverse as well. [A] fascinating look at Central European folk-art music just after the turn of the twentieth century."

-- John J. Puccio, Classical Candor

"Steinway artist Rangell goes solo here stirring up quite the sonic storm on works of Bartok, Janacek and Kodaly playing them with a full blooded passion that makes the great solo recitals so great. A great entry for classical music tourists that want to come into the tent without feeling overwhelmed, this set doesn't pander or dumb it down giving vets and newbies a place they can mingle comfortably. Wonderful stuff that'll add to your sophistication cache with little to no effort."

-- Midwest Record Entertainment

For the past few years, Steinway & Sons has been in the record business, and they turn out piano recordings, naturally. One has the title A Folk Song Runs Through It, a title that must be inspired by Norman Maclean’s story of 1976, which became a movie in 1992: A River Runs Through It. On the cover of the album is an arresting and apt painting by Chagall, I and the Village. The music is by three composers: Janácek, Bartók, and Kodály. Some of the music is explicitly folk—eg, Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances—and some of it is merely folk-tinged (such as the same composer’s sonata). All of these pieces have something in common: lovability—a lovability that comes from their composers’ love for the people’s music. As I listened to this disc, I was struck by nostalgia, for some reason. I thought of pianists past—such as Lili Kraus and Rudolf Firkušný—and I thought of the world that the music embodies, or calls up. The pianist here is an American, Andrew Rangell, who plays the music very well: with sympathy for what it is, and love of it, I think. In addition, he has written top-drawer liner notes.

-- Jay Nordlinger, New Criterion

"The folk origins of Hungarian and Czech piano music are the subject of this fascinating new album by pianist Andrew Rangell. Renowned as an interpreter of Bach and Beethoven, the pianist here turns his gaze on Bartok, Janacek and Kodaly, exploring lesser-known works and taking care to showcase how broad and powerful was the influence of folk song...the most intriguing offering is Bartok's "Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs." The piece with the most direct link to folk music is also the furthest ranging, full of odd turns and biting dissonances that in Rangell's hands sound as fresh and unpredictable as if they were penned yesterday."

-- Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer

For his twenty-sixth recorded album (rec May 2012), Andrew Rangell explores the element of folk music as it defines or influences three composers whose own investigations into ethno-musicology transformed and enriched their own creative directions. Kodaly, Janacek, and Bartok sought out “instrumental melodies of peasant origin—a large and unplumbed reservoir of ancient, indigenous music.” While Kodaly and Bartok collected, notated, and catalogued Hungarian and Magyar folk music, Janacek explored Moravian musical impulses to ignite his own Slovakian style and infuse it with animated rhythmic and harmonic life. Each composer proves himself “a child of the soil,” to use Bartok’s epithet. With their own musical syntax, each composer fused a mainstream tradition—born of Debussy, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, R Strauss, and Ravel—to the ethnic impulses provided by his native milieu.

Rangell opens with Janacek’s 1912 In the Mist, a four-movement suite whose music consistently is set in five or six flats, built on fragments that reveal symmetrical construction. The general tempo for each piece remains slow or moderate, and the often choppy phrases might seem “impressionistic” or impulsively romantic to some tastes. But Janacek’s angular sense of beauty intrudes as well, with sudden shifts of phrase and modal harmony, often reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Three Pieces, Op 11. The No 2 Molto adagio erupts suddenly into a truculent toccata. The first and third pieces, Andante and Andantino, respectively, convey a degree of intimacy, even a religious or “chorale” element. No 3 also breaks out into a rough peasant, stomping dance. The Presto begins with unruly harmony and brief chunks of melody that might be construed as late Scriabin. The textures shift rather brilliantly, with runs appearing from various corners or “mists” of the mind, as it were. The jarring declamations continue to the finale, harsh chords against rivulets of sound that end in a semi-parlando judgment.

Bartok’s 1920 collection of Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs comprise eight connected tableaux that both flow directly from each other and yet exhibit dynamic flux. That Debussy’s Etudes and theBach Goldberg Variations influenced this music seems fairly obvious. Each tune presents its own set of three or four variations, while the intervals and their shifts allow for that element of ‘improvisation’ that the performer can claim as his own. Having first heard this music by Charles Rosen, I could well appreciate Rangell’s equally chaste application of dynamics and chiseled percussive effects in the context of disruptive harmonic progressions. One of the most impish of the set, marked Allegretto scherzando, suddenly breaks into a dance that the Allegro molto extends in askew counterpoint. Like Bach, Bartok saves the last song for the most ‘learned’ treatment, a bawdy song that will evoke a canon at the tritone.

Bartok’s 1915 Six Romanian Folk Dances derive from fiddle tunes Bartok collected in 1909 from various Transylvania districts. Bartok transcribed the piano suite for the orchestra in 1917. The passing parade of ethnic dances moves swiftly and surely, ranging from a Stick Dance to a Sash Dance to a Romanian Polka and a Fast Dance. Cast in binary form, these kaleidoscopic bits of national color find an ardent performer in Rangell, who executes them with suavely potent elan.

Zoltan Kodaly’s Seven Pieces (1917–1918) used to be common vehicles for pianist Andor Foldes. Kodaly’s affection for Debussy prevails in these pieces, especially the Debussy of the Preludes; but musical detectives will find allusions to Liszt and direct quotes from Hungarian folk tunes. The heart of the suite, No. 4, is marked Epitaph: Rubato, which Rangell himself calls “a central dirge-like song.” The piece begins and ends with rotating riffs and liquid chords that bear resemblance to the Liszt Funerailles. The chordal progressions and sweeping gestures absorb elements from both Debussy and Mussorgsky. The last three of the set exploit a more “open” sound, incorporating declamatory plain-chant and lively ornamentation, typical of both Debussy and Transylvanian folk syntax. The pieces, like the Szekely-Tune, can challenge the pianist’s technique in the Liszt manner, while the harmonic language surpasses that composer’s “gypsy” influence with a more authentic and primitive harshness.

After the debut of The Miraculous Mandarin ballet in 1919, Bartok took an experimental attitude—like Stravinsky, Berg, and Schoenberg—to his music, utilizing punishing percussive element and harmonic discords that permeate his First Piano Concerto and the 1926 Piano Sonata. Like his 1911 Allegro barbaro, the opening of the Piano Sonata exploits Bulgarian percussive rhythm; some claim it was Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments that provided a catalyst for Bartok’s keyboard style at this time. Rangell plays in a direct unsentimental style, sure to chisel the five distinct motives of the opening Allegro moderato into sonata-allegro form. The music speeds up to a shattering, irresistible coda. The Sostenuto e pesant middle movement obsessively chants a single pitch, a keening dirge that relies on short pinched intervals. Juxtaposing a malignant chromaticism against a four-note diatonic tune, Bartok creates a nervous clash of characters, if not cultures, which evolves into a crescendo pedal-tone that ads to the emotional oppression. A fervently festive Magyar tune opens the last movement, combining rondo and variation forms, ornamental and even suggesting bird calls in two of the variants. Rangell plays the jagged compulsive movement with buoyant piercing energy, the last page perhaps based on “Good King Wenceslas” but here explosive and “precipitous,” to use Rangell’s own apt epithet. The cover art, Chagall’s I and the Village (1911) proves absolutely right for this clangorous but eminently “native” recital.

-- Audiophile Audition

Pianist Andrew Rangell, in his own notes to this fine release of folk-influenced Eastern European piano music of the early 20th century, distinguishes three modes of interaction with folk music available to composers of the time: they could present it straightforwardly, adorned, or indirectly, not explicitly quoted but present nonetheless. The music here can be placed loosely in those categories: Bartók in the first (although the Piano Sonata, Sz 80, falls more readily into the second); Kodály, where folk tunes are filtered through an Impressionist haze, in the second; and Janácek in the third. But the interesting thing is that all three tendencies are present to a greater or lesser extent in all the music, and Rangell’s specific program is ideally suited to the attuning of the ear to this music and to the way these composers were listening to each other. Janácek is not always considered a direct ancestor of Bartók, but hearing this music makes the relationship clear. Even listeners unconvinced by Rangell’s brilliant but often idiosyncratic ideas tend to concede his genius in music from the decades around 1900, and he is especially effective here as folkish ideas float in and out of a sort of psychological miasma in the Janácek. In Bartók’s more formal presentation he is quite precise. There’s a lot here to keep you listening and listening again, and this constitutes a triumph for the very strong series of piano albums issued by manufacturer Steinway & Sons.


Andrew Rangell’s new recording of music by Janacek, Bartok, and Kodaly brings together a program of folk-inspired music, demonstrating not just the importance of folk music to these composers, but the varied ways that folk elements informed their music. Janacek’s In the Mists sets the tone nicely. In four modest movements, the work explores a modest array of moods and colors. Rangell’s playing is nicely flexible: nuanced, elegant, and outlined, but not precious. This is followed by two collections by Bartok, Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, and Romanian Folk Dances. The second is much more musically compelling—a more direct response to the folk material, less pretentious. It’s a charming and engaging collection of miniatures. The playing here is very strong: bending effortlessly to the needs of each very different dance, demonstrating a sure touch and a strong feeling for the rhythmic needs of each individual piece (sometimes very strict, sometimes quite flexible).

The Seven Pieces for Piano, Op 11, by Kodaly, offer a more expansive bridge to the final work on the program, the Bartok Piano Sonata. Kodaly’s ear is sure, and his sense of balance and pacing is at its best in these pieces. Of particular note is the central piece: dark, but not brooding, and never self-indulgent—a profound and moving epitaph. The Bartok Sonata is presented with efficiency and aplomb. Unrelenting and incisive, the music jumps at the listener. Particularly noteworthy is Rangell’s handling of the tempo changes in III. The several tempos are rationally connected, and yet musically distinct; the pianist has clearly grappled with the force of the music and understands how it must both hold together and come apart in order to truly connect with the listener. The playing is powerfully raucous, neither pompous nor rambunctious. A thoughtful collection of music, nicely arranged and well played.

-- American Record Guide

The Hungarian composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly were pioneers of folk-classical fusion, traveling all over their homelands to gather traditional tunes and songs, which they then incorporated into their compositions. Over in Czechoslovakia, Leos Janacek was drawing on similar themes (though not in such an ethnomusicological way). On this recording, the brilliant pianist Andrew Rangell brings works of all three composers together into this themed program, which opens with Janacek’s In the Mists and then presents folksong-based suites and sonatas by Bartok and Kodaly. As always, Rangell’s playing is an utter joy, and the program is very insightfully chosen.

-- CD Hotlist

Bartok is not everyone’s favorite. There, I said it. But I should also say that his compositions span a great divide, some intensely melodic, others much more jarring. Much the same could be said for Janacek and Kodaly. The works on this CD are not for those who seek easy listening, but as most of them are at least 50 years old, if not older, they now comprise the newer part of “traditional” listening. Andrew Rangell’s recorded works are worth looking up. Just as actors known for comedy like to try their hand at playing a scary killer, Rangell has a large body of recordings of great, pleasing, traditional favorites, so this selection of works with a different tonal structure provide a contrast to his other recordings, and could provide the listening contrast for your music collection.

-- The WSCL Blog


A Folk Song Runs through It follows Andrew Rangell’s acclaimed 2012 release for Steinway, Bach’s Art of Fugue.

With this release, Andrew Rangell, known for his eloquent interpretations of Bach and Beethoven, reminds us of his breadth of repertoire and thoughtful, stimulating programming.

The creative achievements of Bartók, Janácek, and Kodály were nourished and stimulated by each composer’s deep, lifelong study of indigenous folk music. In the works presented here, folk-influence comes to the listener’s ear in ways ranging from the simple presentation of actual folk song to the reconstitution and transformation of folk materials to suit more complex structures. But the folk element, even when fully assimilated, is never lost. “A folk song runs through it.”
-- Andrew Rangell

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