Two + Two (NCD60048) Margaret Mills, Piano


Repertoire includes Sonatina by Elizabeth Lauer, Intercalations by Richard Wilson
Of Shadows Numberless by Miriam Gideon, Variations and Fugue on B-A-C-H by Anthony Newman
FANFARE REVIEW: William Zagorski
Elizabeth Lauer studied composition with, among others, Otto Luening and Lionel Nowak at Columbia University. She subsequently received a Fulbright Scholarship, which enabled her to study in Germany with Phillip Jarnach. Upon her return to America, she secured a day job at Columbia Records as a typist. In short order she was named assistant to the then president, Goddard Lieberson, and ultimately became an associate producer in Columbia’s Masterworks division. She is, in addition to her schooling in composition, an accomplished pianist. As a teacher, Lauer has worked most recently as professor in the music department of the University of Bridgeport, with responsibilities for piano, theory, ear training, and computers in music, and while there she created a multidisciplinary course that featured works by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Mann, and Nietzsche. I bring all this up because it has direct bearing on her 1953-composed Sonatina. It is purely atonal in the best Schoenbergian manner, but unlike so many subsequent Second Viennese adherents who treat Schoenberg’s atonalism as a formulaic means to be applied to the creation of music, she believes, given the evidence here, that music should, whatever its methodological “ism,” never fail to communicate with the listener. Schoenberg often characterized his music as Expressionism—a trait and quality that one cannot fail to feel in the course of an excellent performance of Pierrot Lunaire, or his Violin Concerto. Lauer’s phrases breathe; the music has quite quintessentially human dynamic contours. Despite its atonalism, or maybe she might say because of it, this music embodies conflict and an only hinted-upon resolution. It is Brahms, whom Schoenberg counted among the most progressive composers, in the form of an extreme distillate. Or to put it another way, Brahms on steroids, qualities to which pianist Margaret Mills is very well attuned.
Richard Wilson was my teacher of elementary music theory during my Rutgers University student days. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that he was a far better teacher than I was a student. There we were, for two 75-minute sessions a week, a handful of typically brain-dead slacker boys from the suburbs of New Jersey who had, somehow, been seduced by the inexplicable power of music, and who had little beyond a 19th- to early 20th-century knowledge of it. Wilson taught us the major and minor scales, chord spelling, the circle of fifths, etc. In the course of all that, we found him disarmingly witty (with a soupçon of acid from time to time under his otherwise gentle irony), and utterly brilliant. He was also an extraordinary pianist who could, we all believed, play Debussy’s Isle of Joy with one hand tied behind his back. Most illuminatingly, he taught us that Western music was an unbroken continuum that stretched from medieval times through to our most cutting-edge composers, and, in order to become musicians ourselves, it was incumbent upon us to try to wrap our grey matter around the musics of all periods. He also engendered our love of Bach by challenging us to write a four-part chorale obeying all of Bach’s stringent rules—a chord change at each of the bar’s four beats, no crossing of voices, and no parallel fifths or octaves. After struggling at it for a couple of weeks we all, more or less, decided that it was an impossible task and that some cheating was indeed necessary to make music out of the damned things. When we presented our meager efforts, he quickly looked them over and cataloged our numerous errors, and then showed us the scores of a couple of Bach chorales. It was a revelation. Bach obeyed all the stultifying rules and, somehow, produced music of sublime inner unity, power, and beauty.
Intercalations, composed in 1986 for Margaret Mills, is fully in character with the Richard Wilson I remember from more than a generation ago. The term “intercalation” implies an interpolation or insert having to do with time. He cites Leap Year as an example wherein a bonus day is added to our 12-month calendar to bring it in sync with the actual solar year. Beyond our universally experienced Leap Year, my own intercalation had to do with when I boarded a jet from Narita airport outside of Tokyo some years ago. The plane took off at 4:21 p.m. Tokyo time, and arrived at Newark some 20-odd minutes before it had left. The result was that I had two consecutive Mondays, and one of them was a freebie. Had I cheated my own mortality by a day? It certainly felt so, but I also felt myself in a kind of never-never zone—that which is eloquently realized in the gently spooky opening movement titled “Interspace.” The following movement, “Interplay,” is a virtuosic toccata based on the thematic material of the opening movement. The third movement, “Interlacing,” is a lyrical, somewhat improvisatory meditation upon that same opening material, as is the finale, the ballade-like “Interaction.” Wilson’s composition is unfailingly logically cogent. Like Debussy, he is also attuned to the timbral possibilities of the piano. Thus the thematic and harmonic materials of the opening movement are developed in the course of the following movements in the best Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven tradition, each time revealing more of their affective facets, partly from logic, and partly from sonic color. The piece is also a pianistic tour de force, here easily traversed by Margaret Mills.
Miriam Gideon (1906–96) became a composer when it was decidedly unfashionable for women to do so. Her early mentors included the musically conservative Charles Haubiel. From there she studied with Roger Sessions and, shortly thereafter, embraced atonality. Of Shadows Numberless, based on Keats’s Ode To a Nightingale, is in her typically expressive language of choice, and, in its essentially variation form, evokes, in her own words, “the delight and wonder of youth awakening to the beauties of nature.”

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  • Model: NCD60048
  • 30 Units in Stock

This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 23 March, 2011.

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