American Classics - Fred Hersch: Concert Music 2001-2006

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HERSCH Character Studies. 1 Variations on a Bach Chorale. 2 Lyric Pieces for Trio. 3 Tango Bittersweet. 4 Saloon Songs. 5 • Natasha Paremski (pn);...


HERSCH Character Studies. 1 Variations on a Bach Chorale. 2 Lyric Pieces for Trio. 3 Tango Bittersweet. 4 Saloon Songs. 5 Natasha Paremski (pn); 1 Blair McMillen (pn); 2,5 Dorothy Lawson (vc); 4 Fred Hersch (pn); 4 Grammercy Tr 3 NAXOS 8.559366 (61:09)


The concept of crossover music is certainly appealing. After all, music should be, to paraphrase Duke Ellington, either good or bad, and not about categories. Doesn’t often work that way, though. Paul McCartney, arguably one of the most important figures in rock history, embarrasses himself when he attempts to write symphonic music. The prog rock world is littered with other cases of pretentious drivel from musicians who, when they stick to their roots, are capable of powerful, sincere artistry. There are exceptions, most famously, Gershwin, but also the trail blazing saxophonist Ornette Coleman, whose orchestral outing, Skies of America , is a minor masterpiece.


Add Fred Hersch, a widely respected jazz pianist who still spends a good deal of his professional life playing gigs on the club circuit, to the short list of successful crossover artists. He calls this material, created between 2001 and 2006, concert music, simply meaning that it is written out and not improvised. Although a rhythmic pattern here and there alludes to his jazz background, this is basically neo-Romantic material. There are two big pieces. Lyric Pieces for Trio is a lovely, rather Gallic feeling work for piano, cello, and violin, in which the instrumental lines are rendered with unusual independence, resulting in a very open texture. The other large piece, and for me, the standout composition on the program, is the 24 Variations on a Bach Chorale . The theme is the haunting recurring motif from Saint Matthew Passion that Bach adapted from an original theme by Hans Leo Hassler. This is a superbly written and engrossing variation set, in the manner of Bach and Beethoven, although I am certain that Hersch would forgive me for suggesting that he is not quite in those ranks. Nevertheless, the thoughtfulness and scope of drama here is impressive. There is never any sense that Hersch is merely filling out; all of the music counts for something. It is astonishing to read that he wrote this music in five days. This is a work that should get a wider audience, and the attention of more pianists. McMillen gets the notes across, but there are many moments where it seems that a higher degree of panache is called for, in terms of tonal color and dexterity.


The shorter pieces are of a kind, music of grace and beauty. The Saloon Songs reveal a sure sense and deep affection for an American vernacular sound. Tango Bittersweet , for cello and piano, is a written-out version of music that Hersch played as an improvisation (with cellist Erik Friedlander) for many years. It has a sweetly lilting flavor that is irresistable. The Character Studies , inspired by important figures in Hersch’s career, are similarly appealing. Despite my comments on McMillen’s playing, the performances and recorded sound are fine, although this is music of sufficient merit to attract additional musicians. In all, a delightful release.


FANFARE: Peter Burwasser


Product Description:


  • Release Date: October 30, 2007


  • UPC: 636943936627


  • Catalog Number: 8559366


  • Label: Naxos


  • Number of Discs: 1


  • Composer: Fred Hersch


  • Performer: Natasha Paremski



Works:


  1. Character Studies (3)

    Composer: Fred Hersch

    Performer: Natasha Paremski (Piano)


  2. Variations (24) on a Bach Chorale

    Composer: Fred Hersch

    Performer: Natasha Paremski (Piano)


  3. Lyric Pieces for Trio

    Composer: Fred Hersch

    Performer: Natasha Paremski (Piano)


  4. Tango Bittersweet

    Composer: Fred Hersch

    Performer: Natasha Paremski (Piano)


  5. Saloon Songs

    Composer: Fred Hersch

    Performer: Natasha Paremski (Piano)