International Record Review

Peter Seivewright has issued a number of discs featuring unusual piano music and this collection of American piano sonatas is one such. His pianism is fully up to their very different though equally formidable demands, making it unfortunate that the recorded sound – or is it more the relatively confined acoustic – gives his Bösendorfer Imperial an unattractively hard, even brittle edge above forte . Having heard the disc on several players, this seems inherent to the recording rather than the means of playback.

The inlay features an eloquent endorsement from Elliott Carter, following a performance Seivewright gave of his Piano Sonata (1946) a quarter-century ago, and the present account confirms that his identity with this piece remains undimmed. At over 31 minutes, it is surely the most spacious on record – enabling Seivewright fully to elucidate the first movement’s powerful sonata design, then set out its successor’s fugue with admirable clarity. If the fugue itself lacks a degree of propulsive energy, the postlude endows the converging of motivic threads with a raptness unique on disc. Even more than on Ursula Oppens’s authoritative if more conventional reading, the sound places insufficient emphasis on the harmonic resonance which underlies the work’s formal unfolding — and in which Charles Rosen remains unsurpassed – though the sheer conviction of Seivewright’s approach cannot be gainsaid.

The other two works are less frequently encountered these days but equally revealing of their creator’s concerns. Of the composers who found fame in Hollywood, Miklós Rózsa left the most enduring concert legacy, largely because his ‘abstract’ and film music wre not in the least indebted to each other. The Piano Sonata (1967) is a work Bartók might perhaps have written had he kept to the Dance Suite as a compositional template, its searching Andante flanked by movements of tightly woven textures informed by an unstoppable rhythmic energy. Seivewright does the piece full justice, and is hardly less persuasive in the Fourth Piano Sonata (1901) by Edward MacDowell, the last (but not necessarily the finest) of his large-scale instrumental works. The present account maintains a tight rein on the rhapsodic excess of its first movement and finds the right degree of pathos in its successor, before a finale whose fatalistic apotheosis is the more telling for its understatement. In this latter work, Donna Amato (on a set of MacDowell’s sonatas) has the benefit of more alluring sound, though Seivewright makes rather more of the music’s emotional ebb and flow.

The pianist contributes an informed booklet note, though a little less on Rózsa and more on his sonata would have been welcome. This disc is well recommended overall, the qualification over the actual piano sound notwithstanding.

—Richard Whitehouse