Sowerby: Selected Works for Solo & Duo Piano / Julia Tsien, Quillman

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This album of world-premiere recordings features solo and duo piano music spanning nearly the entire career of Prix de Rome and Pulitzer Prize winning composer...

This album of world-premiere recordings features solo and duo piano music spanning nearly the entire career of Prix de Rome and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Leo Sowerby (1895–1968), one of the most distinctive American voices of the early and mid-20th century. Recorded in 1997 in Chicago, where Sowerby spent the bulk of his student and professional life, the album is being released at mid-price with support from the Leo Sowerby Foundation.

Pianists Gail Quillman and Julia Tsien share a direct musical lineage to Sowerby. Quillman, who established the Leo Sowerby Foundation, studied with Sowerby, and has performed more of his solo piano and chamber music than anyone else. Tsien, an active performer and teacher, was a Quillman student. The album’s earliest work, Three Summer Beach Sketches, for solo piano, from 1915, shows the influence of composer-pianist Percy Grainger, with whom Sowerby studied. It’s also one of the earliest serious compositions to use jazz and blue harmonies. Composed in 1959, Suite for Piano (Four-hands) shares a kinship with the music of Samuel Barber, whom Sowerby championed, and the music of Sowerby’s former student Ned Rorem. Passacaglia, Interlude and Fugue for solo piano (1931) is a dreamy, French Impressionist take on classic forms. Prelude for Two Pianos (1932) is more Delius than Debussy, more English austerity than French sensuality. Sowerby’s brief Fisherman’s Tune is an homage to Grainger. The overture-length sonata movement Synconata, arranged for two pianos, was originally composed in 1924 as a curtain-raiser for American bandleader Paul Whiteman’s “symphonic jazz” concerts.

REVIEWS:

Sowerby's music offers a welcome mix of approachability and compositional sophistication. The discographical value of this disc is huge; that it is a musical triumph seals the deal.

– Fanfare

Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) is a name that takes me back to my Anglican roots. His music that I remember from church choir did nothing to prepare me for the rather brilliant piano music on this release. Here we get what are all labeled world premiere recordings. The solo piano works are played by Quillman (a student of Sowerby’s): Three Summer Beach Sketches (1915) and Passacaglia, Interlude, and Fugue (1931). The rest are performed on two pianos by Quillman and her student, Tsien: Suite for Piano 4 Hands (1959), Prelude for 2 Pianos (1932), Fisherman’s Tune, and Synconata.

Sometimes jazzy and even using blues harmonies, Sowerby’s piano music is always interesting and well crafted. He toured with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra alongside Gershwin, Zez Confrey. and Ferde Grofe. The first performance of Synconata had Sowerby and Confrey on the two pianos. Sowerby also studied with Percy Grainger, whose influence is quite apparent here.

The booklet notes are quite comprehensive, and the only criticism I have of this recording is the piano sound. It is just adequate and sounds like it was made in a good sized empty concert hall (Ganz Hall in Chicago’s Roosevelt University). I would expect a 1997 recording to be on a higher level, but the unique music makes it worth coming back to.

-- American Record Guide



Product Description:


  • Release Date: November 15, 2019


  • UPC: 735131700627


  • Catalog Number: CDR 7006


  • Label: Cedille


  • Number of Discs: 1


  • Period: 20th Century


  • Composer: Leo Sowerby


  • Performer: Julia Tsien, Gail Quillman



Works:


  1. Summer Beach Sketches (3)

    Composer: Leo Sowerby

    Performer: Gail Quillman (Piano)


  2. Piano Suite

    Composer: Leo Sowerby

    Performer: Gail Quillman (Piano), Julia Tsien (Piano)


  3. Passacaglia

    Composer: Leo Sowerby

    Performer: Gail Quillman (Piano)


  4. Prelude

    Composer: Leo Sowerby

    Performer: Gail Quillman (Piano), Julia Tsien (Piano)


  5. Fisherman's Tune, H. 161

    Composer: Leo Sowerby

    Performer: Gail Quillman (Piano), Julia Tsien (Piano)


  6. Synconata

    Composer: Leo Sowerby

    Performer: Gail Quillman (Piano), Julia Tsien (Piano)