CULTURE & THE ARTS
World Premiere Recordings
AUFBAU 63:19 Sept. 12, 1997 p13
[original title: New CDs by Black & Blackwood] reviewed by Leonard Lehrman
(reprinted with permission from
Sonneck Society Bulletin
23:2 Summer 1997 pp58-59)
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman
Two new CDs, on Cedille and Bridge, contain world premiere recordings of compositions by two prodigious performing talents: Easley Blackwood (b. 1933) and Robert Black (1950-1993). This is not the saxophonist or the double bassist Robert Black, but rather the pianist & conductor of numerous new music recordings on William Thomas McKinley's MMC, as well as on CRI, Bridge, GM (including a recording of "Pierrot lunaire" with Phyllis Bryn-Julson), and Orion - on which he was the pianist in solo works of Liszt and Beethoven. The new Bridge recording (9061) presents him for the first time as a composer, which he seems to have been seriously interested in becoming only the last three years of his life. (Well, Anton Bruckner started composing at age 40 too, and went on to quite a career as composer.)
Though he studied with Roger Sessions (some of whose piano music he recorded) and David Diamond, the strongest influence on his own music seems to have been that of composers whose large works he conducted, like Ralph Shapey ("Three for Six") and especially Charles Wuorinen ("New York Notes"), with bold contrasts veering from starkly simple gestures to wildly hysterical flights of fancy.
Black's Three Pieces for Violin and Piano, inspired by poet and former violinist David Shapiro's request for "a piece for ruined violinist" are ably essayed on the CD by Gregory Fulkerson and Charles Abramovic. They contain much of the same material expanded in Black's orchestral piece in three sections, inspired by Shapiro's poetry: Capriccio (Blown Apart), which opens the CD.
Jerzy Swoboda conducts the Warsaw Philharmonic, an orchestra that Black himself conducted on many occasions. In between, James Winn plays Black's only piano piece, the sprawling "Foramen Habet!" whose title was inspired by an incident in a Paul West novel involving Peter the Great, and which the composer dedicated to his piano teacher, Beveridge Webster. The CD concludes with Black conducting the PRISM Orchestra he founded in a live (undated) performance of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto. The motoric energy of the conductor is in evidence almost right to the end, where it seems to peter out. Though he left a mighty legacy, his early death from cancer must still be deemed a tremendous loss.
Easley Blackwood, a pianist also known for dazzlingly dexterous performances of works by Schoenberg, Sessions, Wuorinen, Liszt and many others (especially Pierre Boulez, Charles Ives, and John Perkins), is still very much alive, composing and performing. But the harmonic style of his compositions has taken a decisive turn to the right.
Since 1978 he has been writing in what he calls "a conservative tonal idiom, which... I have found more convivial than conventional, academic modernism." Sandwiching Max Reger's 1909 Sonata #3 for Bb Clarinet & Piano between Blackwood's two new works for clarinet and piano (the Sonata for A clarinet and the Sonatina for Eb clarinet) on the new Cedille CD (CDR 90000 022) reveals the older work as similar in harmonic language but somehow more inspired (or at least less mechanically repetitive), even if not quite as technically demanding.
Clarinetist John Bruce Yeh and pianist Blackwood are fully up to the demands. In this Brahms centennial year it is indeed appropriate to be thinking of enriching the clarinet sonata repertoire which truly begins with the two Brahms sonatas. I confess that a third of a century ago, having once successfully masqueraded a piece of my own as Schumann's, I too had such aspirations, composing, performing, and even recording a piece I modestly called "Brahms' Clarinet Trio #2."
But as Nadia Boulanger, teacher of Blackwood and so many American composers (including this writer), might have asked: "What for do you want to write in someone else's style? You have your own voice, do you not?"
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