Quilico Explores “Global Sirens”

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GLOBAL SIRENS / FROMM-MICHAELS: Langsamer Walzer. SCHMITZ-GOHR: Elegie for Left Hand. GENTILE: Preludio (for Chopin). BACKES: Slow. L. BOULANGER: D’un vieux Jardin. RAINER: Barbaric Dance. HELLER: Piano Muziek voor Anje van Harten. ECKHART-GRAMATTÉ: Nocturne. GLANVILLE-HICKS; Prelude for a Pensive Pupil. ERDING: Chillan. CHAMINADE: Méditation. TAILLEFERRE: Deux Pieces. KUZMENKO: Mysterious Summer Night. MONK: Paris. Window in 7. St. Petersburg Waltz. Railroad (travel song). SHEPHERD: Wireless Rag / Christina Petrowska Quilico, pno / Fleur de Son Classics 58046

This CD is played by Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico. Although the liner notes do not mention it, she is the widow of famed Metropolitan Opera baritone Louis Quilico.

The problem with such programs is that not all women composers, like their male counterparts, are created equal. Many of them write what is often referred to, in a derogatory sense, “women’s music,” which is soft, lyrical and a bit sappy. Of the 14 composers presented here, I was only familiar with six, of which one, Cecile Chaminade, is famous (or infamous) for just such drippy music.

First up is Ilse Fromm-Michaels (1888-1956) who came from Hamburg to Berlin to study piano at the age of 13 and, later, composition with Hans Pfitzner. Her Langsamer Waltzer starts out in a conventional tonality, but quickly shifts to sideways harmonies that add interest. Its problem is that it doesn’t stay there but, rather, returns to fairly conventional melodic-harmonic construction. It’s a nice but not terribly distinguished piece. Next is Else Schmitz-Gohr, Arthur Nikisch’s niece. Her Elegie for Left Hand is pleasant but less interesting than the previous piece, despite a dip into some then-modern-sounding German harmonies.

Although I was prepared not to like the Preludio (for Chopin) Preludio (for Chopin) by Ada Gentile (b. 1947), simply because I generally dislike Chopin’s music, this is a harmonically interesting and well-crafted piece that uses Chopin as a model for some very interesting melodic-harmonic movement. The first really meaty and thoroughly interesting piece on this CD is Slow Slow by Lotte Backes (1901-1990), whose mother was also a composer. This has an unusual rhythm, almost swaggering, and an interlocking relationship between the melody and harmony that I found particularly interesting.

Happily, the next two pieces are by well-known and highly regarded composers: Lili Boulanger’s D’un vieux Jardin, which resembles the contemporary music of Debussy and Koechlin with its opaque French harmonies, and Priaulx Rainier’s Barbaric Dance moves us as far away from “women’s music” as one is likely to get. What an interesting piece, and so typical of this underrated composer’s output! German composer Barbara Heller (b. 1938) comes up next with her Piano Muziek voor Anje van Harten. This one is all clashing atonal harmonies, interesting but, to my ears, saying little or nothing…the kind of music I refer to as “schlumph.”

This is followed by Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatte’s Nocturne, a piece that starts out rather unprepossessing but has some interesting moments mixed with conventional tunes that go in one ear and out the other. Sadly, the same may be said for Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ Prelude for a Pensive Pupil. Chillan by contemporary composer Susanne Erding (b. 1955) is a different animal: though a slow piece, it is original, interesting and very well constructed using modern harmony and occasional tone cluster. Cecile Chaminade may be seen (and heard) as the archetypal “woman composer,” as everything I’ve heard by her has been pretty but uninteresting salon music. This Méditation is no exception.

Germaine Tailleferre, the only female member of that group of composers known as Les Six, was an interesting composer whose short pieces are the only ones that seem to survive in concert nowadays. The Deux Pieces here are typical of her work: excellently crafted and fastidious, and Quilico plays them (as she does everything on this album) extremely well.

Mysterious Summer Night by Toronto-based pianist-composer Larysa Kuzmenko (b. 1956) is a study in modal harmonies, pleasant but not very original. Happily, we next get no less than four pieces by the redoubtable Meredith Monk, and here I was in my happy space. I LOVE her music! Quilico plays it with more of a legato feeling than the composer herself does, but it’s still quirky, fascinating and hypnotic.

Wireless RagThis recital ends with Wireless Rag by Adeline Shepherd (1883-1950), who was born in Iowa but spent most of her life in Wisconsin. The notes indicate that although she “may have had some instruction in piano,” she “could not read a note of music”! She played entirely by ear, writing a bunch of ragtime pieces, the most popular and famous one being Pickles and Peppers in 1906, which sold almost a quarter-million copies and was the campaign song of William Jennings Bryan’s last presidential run. Her other three published pieces were Wireless Rag, Live Wires and the Victory March. Quilico plays this piece in almost a slow-drag style, with a bit too much rubato for a ragtime piece. (Ragtime was meant to be played at a consistently steady but medium tempo; listen to this performance on YouTube to hear how it should go.) It is, nonetheless, a fun piece and a nice way to end the album.

A mixed bag, then; some of the music quite good, some mediocre, and some innocuous.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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