ROBERT SPANO (b.1961): Piano Sonata “Four Elements”, 3 Hölderlin Lieder.
Catalogue Number: 05S068
Label: ASO Media
Description: Spano is best known as conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and he is also a highly accomplished pianist, as this recording demonstrates. Composing has been an on-again-off-again activity, though he has done it since childhood, and studied it as part of his broad and varied musical education. He returned to it recently with these works. The sonata is large, at about 40 minutes, with four movements in a conventional plan which make original use of traditional forms. It has a firm basis in tonality, sometimes far more freely expressed than at others. This is an aspect of a characteristic which, while not a weakness per se, likely results from the composer's encyclopædic knowledge of a wide repertory; at times it risks sounding like a 'Cook's Tour' of 19th (and sometimes earlier) and 20th-century piano styles (entirely eschewing the avant garde), without ever quite settling into a style of its own. It illustrates the four classical 'elements' - earth, air, water and fire. The first is a set of very free variations, forming character pieces; this is the movement with the greatest stylistic freedom. The second movement is an elfin scherzo, very French, especially Debussyan in parts, with two trios, the second of which alludes to 17th century music. The slow movement explicitly refers to Debussy - La cathédrale engloutie - in a free fantasia on gestures from the work. The rondo-finale brings together elements from the previous movements, with a Prokofiev-like momentum tying the movement together. The work's personal, almost autobiographical nature produces a serious, thoughtful and finely constructed argument, largely devoid of crowd-pleasing pyrotechnics but by no means avoiding technical challenges or grateful pianistic writing. For the Hölderlin songs the composer chose a deliberately 19th century Romantic style to match the nature of the poetry and to pay homage to the golden age of lieder. German-English texts. Jessica Rivera (soprano), Robert Spano (piano).