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BACH: Concerto No. 1 in Dminor, BWV 1052; HINDEMITH: The Four Temperaments;
BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1 – Joshua Pierce, piano / Capella Istropolitana
Slovak Radio Sym. Orch. / Kirk Trevor – MSR Classics MS 1415
74:19 [Distr. by Albany]

"...A very refreshing performance...nimble and expressive..."

Here’s a refreshing program, crisply and smartly played, that combines two somewhat off-the-beaten-path works with Bach’s most substantial keyboard concerto. The busy and inventive solo part tends to dominate the Bach performance. Messrs Pierce and Trevor refrain from the break-neck tempos that mar a lot of modern performances of Baroque works, but the interpretation is still nimble and expressive. The slow movement is particularly expressive, no doubt aided by Mr. Pierce’s sensitive playing and the greater nuance that can be deployed with the piano, as opposed to the harpsichord. There’s plenty of vigor in III.

The other two works are from the 20th Century but look back to Baroque forms, so they make excellent disc-mates. Pianist and conductor give the Bloch a very effective performance, though it will not erase my preference for the old Chicago Symphony/Kubelik recording (Mercury). But I have to admit that Mr Pierce gives the solo piano part a higher profile than the Kubelik’s George Schick, and the more up-to-date sound is welcome. The Hindemith piece started life as a ballet for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet. The quite prominent piano part makes it more like a five-movement concerto. Mr. Pierce gives the solo freshness and exuberance—even in the second (Melancholic) and third (Phlegmatic) variations—without weighting it down with too much Germanic seriousness. The fourth variation (Choleric) comes off as a lively, virtuoso dash. It’s a very refreshing performance overall of a work that should be better known.

The sonics are very good, though a bit aggressive and closely miked sometimes. The good part is that they let you hear inner detail easily, and you can always dial back the volume in the louder passages.

- Hensen, American Record Guide, January/February 2014

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"Here’s an imaginative bouquet of three baroque concertos - one echt, two neo - played by pianist Joshua Pierce with wide-ranging sympathies but a special reputation in music of the 20th century… rhythms are consistently engaging: there’s plenty of zip where required (say, in the finale of the Bach or the piano’s vital entry in the Hindemith), and the dance qualities of the Hindemith…have an infectious lilt. Add to this the sparkling textures and the pianist’s sure technical control, and you have a trio of performances that offer plenty of musical rewards. The presence of the under-appreciated Bloch, with a relatively modest solo part rarely taken up by pianists of Pierce’s stature, is especially welcome… Conductor Kirk Trevor has the measure of the music (I especially enjoyed the playfulness of the Hindemith and the tough demeanor of Bloch’s fourth-movement fugue). He’s supported by alert orchestral playing from both groups… Eric Salzman’s notes are typically detailed. All in all, if the particular combination of works appeals, you should find this an attractive collection."

- Peter J. Rabinowitz, Issue 37:2, Fanfare, November/December 2013

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"...well worth your attention...A nice mix-and-match of styles not all that far apart."

Though Joshua Pierce is the headliner here he really isn’t except in the Bach concerto. Not that I am complaining; though earlier in my life I tolerated only “complete” albums by one composer, now I rather like these “mixed” programs, especially those that on the surface seem so disparate. Neither the Hindemith nor the Bloch has anything to commend itself to a soloist—most orchestras playing either one of these would be content with the house pianist in the role. But obviously Pierce has a love for each of them and so I certainly can’t grumble about their presence here. But first to the Bach.

There are a lot of recordings of this piece out there - lots - so it takes some guts to even approach the studio with this thing in hand. Gould and others have set the standard. Pierce, whom I have looked upon as a bit of a romantic, really doesn’t take that path here. Instead he is more aligned with modern sensibilities - so called - with quick tempos and rather clipped articulation. This isn’t bad, and I would certainly rate this on a par with most other recordings out there.

What makes the Bach more interesting is what follows it. Hindemith’s Four Temperaments is a superb piece not played that often though it does have a decent but small recorded history. The version by the late James De Priest is one that I have always held in high regard, along with the composer’s own with the Berlin Phil. So this one is very welcome and is played with a lot of spirit and panache. The piece is actually called Theme and Variations for Piano and Strings so there is somewhat of a soloist component to it. The work, originally commissioned as a ballet score, takes the four humors connected with a body fluid - not attractive as a premise, I know - to assert four separate variations. It’s linear dimensions and contrapuntal activity work well after the Bach and one immediately ascertains the connection.

The Bloch piece was written in Santa Fe and completed in Cleveland, ostensibly with the idea to show students that it was still possible to write convincing tonal music at a time when it was supposedly on its deathbed. It succeeds brilliantly and has become one of his most-played and recorded works, though oddly there are only 13 now available, the ones by Quincy Porter in San Diego and Howard Hanson at Eastman being among the best. Add this one to it—Maestro Trevor has the true measure of the piece in a nicely balanced and lovingly crafted interpretation that does the piece full justice.

This is a fine recording, though if pressed I think I favor the Hindemith the most. Pierce is excellent in all three, and each has its felicities and well worth you attention.

- Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition, August 2, 2013


"Voice and piano intertwine dynamically throughout."

Vincent Persichetti: Harmonium
Sherry Overholt (soprano), Joshua Pierce (piano)
Recorded at Lefrak Auditorium, Queens College, New York (January 2012)– 60’17
MSR Classics MS 1432 – Booklet in English includes complete text

Here we have a world premiere recording of an ambitious work composed in 1951. The first question that pops to mind is: “Does the work deserve its obscurity or not?” The quick answer is “No” - but there are understandable reasons for its obscurity.

Reason number one is the work’s length: a full hour of singing by one performer is daunting for both performer and audience. Reason number two is the nature of the content: 20 poems by Wallace Stevens from a collection of his poems, titled Harmonium, published in 1931. (An earlier volume containing most of the poems was published in 1923; a remarkably small number of copies were sold, but the 1931 edition became at least a succès d’estime and Stevens became very influential.) As the wonderfully informative program notes state, the poems are noted for their “extreme opacity”, another way of saying they are hard to understand. There is no story, no dramatic arc. Persichetti has seized the work, but as an aural-only musical experience, it requires a great deal of concentrated listening.

Stevens is noted not just as a seminal modernist poet, but one who worked at a day job in a field considered remote from the avant-garde, namely as an executive in an insurance firm in Hartford, Connecticut. However, at the time his poems were issued, Hartford became (for a brief period) the American foothold for surrealism under the dynamic direction of A. Everett “Chick” Austen who ran the city’s art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum. The museum hosted the first American surrealist art show and the world premiere of the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein Four Saints in Three Acts. I can’t help but feel that a performance of Harmonium ought to be staged somehow to reflect this artistic ferment. (Just as György Kurtág’s 50-minute-long Kafka-Fragmente benefited by being given a dynamic staged performance by Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre Company - reviewed on this website.)

As for the twenty songs in the cycle: most are very short (two minutes or less) and longer ones are further subdivided into the sections of the Stevens poem. The longest is the final number, “Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird” which has 13 sections and could well be described as a song cycle on its own. (If the title sounds familiar this could be that it has been set by other composers as well - e.g., Lukas Foss.) Eric Salzman, in his informative notes, describes Persichetti’s use of “dissonance, consonance, bitonality, neo-classical rhythmic energy, smooth flow, piano virtuosity, expressionist disconnect, tone painting, a dry academic exercise but a lively, inventive set of creations that reflect the almost overwhelming multiplicity of expressions in the poems.

Voice and piano intertwine dynamically throughout. (Here is yet another situation where “accompaniment” is absolutely the wrong word in describing the piano part.)

Parts (most notably the third poem, “Theory”) will remind the listener of Aaron Copland’s settings of Emily Dickinson composed the year before Persichetti set Harmonium. (Persichetti also set some Dickinson poems.) The sixth poem “The wind shifts” is onomatopoeic. The ninth song, “In the season of grapes”, resorts to straightforward operatic declamation. Another cycle the work brings to mind is Eight Songs for Mad King (Peter Maxwell Davies, 1969).

Both soprano Sherry Overholt and pianist Joshua Pierce give fully engaged performances. The soprano’s bio notes her extensive recital experience but fails to give information as to how often she has performed all or some of these songs. I would guess a good deal. (Some might not like her vibrato, always a fraught subject.)

Wallace Stevens is an established name in the American canon. He is probably more widely read and studied than Vincent Persichetti. It would be great if this well-produced (but still challenging - even daunting for many) recording were to result in more live performances of this intriguing work.

- Michael Johnson, The Classical Music Network, July 23, 2013


Pierce:  An experienced veteran in meeting the demands of  20th-century American music

"To be sure, the demands of this cycle—with regard to intelligent musicianship as well as sheer vocal agility and beauty of tone—are great. There are not many sopranos capable of truly mastering it, and Sherry Overholt is to be congratulated for even taking on such a challenge. On the other hand, pianist Joshua Pierce is an experienced veteran in meeting the demands of  20th-century American music, from Nicolas Flagello to John Cage. He has a long history of involvement with the music of Persichetti, and he projects the details of his contribution with ease and aplomb—and far more effectively than the pianist on the Arizona recording. In this work the piano is an equal partner, not an accompaniment, and its importance is acknowledged by its prominence in the recording balance. In fact, I suspect that listeners new to the work will find themselves “grabbed” by some of the piano parts before they are captivated by the vocal lines.

In any event, this new release— is a milestone in the history of American music on recordings. I would go so far as to assert that Harmonium is arguably the greatest American song cycle."

-Walter Simmons, Fanfare Magazine, May, 2013


John Cage 100 / Various artists (Wergo)
"Wergo’s handsomely produced box set was assembled for last year’s 2012 John Cage centenary. Fans will lap it up, and one hopes that curious newcomers will take the plunge and open their ears to this extraordinary, approachable music. Joshua Pierce’s 1970s album of the Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano still sounds definitive. Cage’s Table of Preparations is included in the booklet, listing in alarming detail the position, size and orientation of every bolt, washer and screw inserted in Pierce’s piano. Inevitably, you start to wonder if the bell-like sounds and echoes of gamelan music would come across differently if the screws were placed at random. Still, the wonder lies in hearing these tiny pieces packing an expressive punch out all proportion to their miniature scale."

-Graham Dickson,  www.theartsdesk.com February 2, 2013, United Kingdom


"Almost the first thing you'll notice about Pierce's playing is the steady, calm yet totally confident command with which he paces and navigates through the intricacies of some of the composer's most engaging and enticing works for solo piano. "

"The result of this rich and knowing combination of aspects to Pierce's playing would still not be worthy of our attention if it were not for a certain spontaneity, a dedication to the aforementioned variety in the composer's pianism, a determination lightly to accentuate Cage's freshness. At times this is, of course, almost playful; at times earnest yet delighted; always full of vigor. Maybe Pierce is reflecting the closeness of much of Cage's work to dance. In the end, Pierce's accounts of all this music, in its various ways, are always focused, sonorous, inviting and full of life."

- Mark Sealey, Classical.Net ©2012...More of this review. click here


'...Two Pieces for Piano, a brooding keyboard meditation
seems to hover with Cage’s ghost in Pierce’s whispering tones...'

"In the 20 sections of Four Walls Pierce essays the austere soundscape that alternates with warm, supple, serene piano lines. Cage’s narrative, is in fact, a diatonic scenario of a family in crisis. Episodes of lingering silence and a scene in which tenor Robert White sings about “black nightingales” and “Sweet love/my throat is gurgling/the mystic mouth.” The bleakness is overrun by two “dance” interludes that are more than just propulsive, they have a raw musicality, or counter-musicality, and you can only imagine how figures, spontaneously appear in Cunningham’s choreography... The highlight on this set is the transcendent live performance by Pierce of Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano."
-Lewis Whittington, Concertonet.com - November 15, 2012...More of this review, click here.


'He is a big pianist but with a real heart and soul'

"Thursday night's performance features the renowned Pierce, who has worked with (Kirk)Trevor on seven recordings, the maestro estimated — and the pair have several more collaborations in the works. Trevor praised Pierce's "unusual" range. "He was very famous as a contemporary avant-garde pianist for a long time and yet was one of the best romantic pianists out there."

..."He is a big pianist but with a real heart and soul," Trevor added. "He has always been a collaborative partner with me. He likes for me to take the role of leading him to his best playing, meaning that we find tempos and interpretive elements together that show him at his best."
-Aarik Danielsen, Columbia Daily Tribune - July 1, 2012 ...To read all of this great review, click here.


“John Cage at 100: A Well-Rounded Tribute from Joshua Pierce - Joshua Pierce’s longtime advocacy of and affinity for John Cage’s piano music has resulted in numerous recordings…  Here Pierce [is] fluid, flexible, and involved... Furthermore, the pianist benefits from a spacious hall ambience that allows the Gamelan-like timbres to fully resonate at any dynamic level… Cage acolytes will notice Pierce’s subtle yet noticeable degree of tempo adjustment and nuance in the large-scale Four Walls…along with Robert White’s delightfully emotive rendition of the unaccompanied vocal interlude. Pierce’s gutsy, incisive way with shorter dissonant works like Quest and both sets of Two Pieces point up their proximity to Cage’s teacher Schoenberg, and the short, pointillistic Piano Sextet (one of Cage’s few “traditional” chamber scores) reveals the composer’s sensitive and often underrated ear for conjuring fresh instrumental textures. MSR should be thanked for restoring this wide range of Cage’s music in such strong, committed performances in time for the composer’s 2012 centenary, while not forgetting to mention composer Eric Salzman’s informative and well-written booklet notes.”
- Jed Distler, Classics Today – September 2012


John Cage 2-CD set was featured on Q2 Music's (WQXR's online station for contemporary music) Album of the Week for August 27 - August 31, 2012.

"There are few pianists as equipped to tackle the polarizing music of John Cage as powerfully as Joshua Pierce...Pierce’s balance of careful technique and violent abandon throughout offer a profound and accessible portrait of the landscape-changing composer." - Read the entire review here


'Joshua Pierce is one of the most diversely accomplished living pianists...'

“Positively Spellbinding... a fine recording... In the Draeske, Aomori has ample opportunity to display his virtuosity and vivid assurance... Joshua Pierce is one of the most diversely accomplished living pianists... The performances by clarinetist Aomori, pianist Pierce and cellist Barrett [of the Beethoven] capture this exuberance unerringly... With a fine recording, this disk should provide inspiration to clarinetists and much enjoyable listening for the rest of us."
-Howard Smith, Music & Vision - April 2011


'All these performances are technically superb and musically satisfying'

"The Pierce-Aomori Duo has made lovely disc of pieces for clarinet and piano...and with cellist Daniel Barrett, Beethoven's Clarinet Trio in E-flat, Op.11... The Beethoven Trio, which sounds like a masterpiece in this company, receives a wonderful performance, with Pierce providing forward motion with his carefully controlled accents. Aomori and Barrett play lyrically. All these performances are technically superb and musically satisfying. A recommended disc."
-Turok's Choice, Issue No.230 - March 2011


'beautifully played and recorded'

"MSR struck gold with this release... beautifully played and recorded performance[s]."
- Fanfare Magazine, May/June 2011


'performances are technically assured'

BBC Music, March 2011


'polished, enthusiastic in the extreme, and thoroughly virtuosic'

"...a very generous and appealing program from MSR... the performances throughout by clarinetist Hideaki Aomori, pianist Joshua Pierce, and cellist Daniel Barrett are polished, enthusiastic in the extreme, and thoroughly virtuosic when that's called for. Nor are the melting lyrical passages of Burgmüller and Mendelssohn slighted. With a fine recording captured in the Lefrak Concert Hall at SUNY, Queens, this disk should provide inspiration to clarinetists and much enjoyable listening for the rest of us."
- Passarella, Audiophile Audition, January 2011


... with extremely impressive solo playing'

imageimageimageimage "[an] intriguing piano concerto album... (Brahms, Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Opus 15) a darkly dramatic performance in a spacious acoustic...with extremely impressive solo playing... [and] a reading of the Strauss Burlesque which goes with a real swing."
- BBC Music, February 2011


MORE REVIEWS

'a very fine performance by Joshua Pierce'

"... in Fanfare 29:6 (July/August 2006), I was tremendously impressed by Pierce's MSR recording of Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2, enthusing that it was as near perfect as one is likely to hear. So, naturally I looked forward to hearing him in Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1, and performance-wise, he did not disappoint. In fact, after repeatedly complaining that performances had become too slow, especially in the first movement, I was almost ready to pronounce Pierce's reading too fast, for at 20:17 he plows through the first movement faster than either Pollini with Böhm (20:45) or Kapell with Mitropoulos (20:57), both of whom are lightning bolts compared to Ax with Levine (23:05), Zimerman with Rattle (23:27), and Gilels with Jochum (24:04). But the more I listened to Pierce's performance the more convincing I found his tempos, which brought a heightened sense of drama and tension to the score."
- Jerry Dubins, Fanfare, November/December 2010


'a very fine performance by Joshua Pierce

The New York pianist Joshua Pierce has recorded an impressive range of concertante music from Beethoven and his contemporaries to Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Casella and Respighi, with a wide range of American or Americanized composers, and making a notable contribution to our familiarity with twentieth century American piano music. His award winning series of recordings for Wergo devoted to the work of John Cage, with whom he was closely associated for over twenty years, led to him introducing Cage to Russian audiences in Moscow and Kazan ten years ago to great acclaim, no doubt a fascinating discovery for them.

His recording of the D minor concerto by Brahms (No 1) is that of a live performance in Bratislava on 24 June 1993, three years after the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and during the early years of what was called the democratic Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia which stirring times, at least to the unnamed writer of the insert notes, 'can be heard in the strong and vibrant character of this performance ...' It is certainly a vigorous performance which seems to demonstrate a positive partnership between Pierce and conductor Paul Freeman, though the orchestral strings generally sound rather abrasively metallic at times in a score that might expect a warmer gut smoothness.

There is however much effectively sensitive orchestral playing and particularly in the slow movement to accompany what is throughout a very fine performance by Joshua Pierce, a pianist who is clearly in control, both technically and emotionally, of this large canvas. The final Rondo is as it should be, a well-balanced and exuberant recreation.

Strauss' Burlesque for piano and orchestra -- also in D minor -- is, like Brahms' concerto, the work of a youthful composer, though Strauss at the age of twenty-one did not have quite the same command of concentrated musical thought. It is lively and witty and rather too long, entertaining when not vaguely wondering what to do next, but demanding a technical lightness of touch that Pierce clearly can give it.

This was recorded two years later (1995) for Czech Radio with their National Symphony in which the strings sound much warmer. The youthful Strauss could have learnt something of the making of a good Rondo from Brahms! Later he got the idea.
-Patric Standford, Music & Vision, September 2010


'... makes a lasting impression'

Joshua Pierce and conductor Paul Freeman present a Brahms D Minor Concerto (1858) given at the Reduta (24 June 1993) in Bratislava, formerly Pressburg, during the so-called Velvet Revolution, some three years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the beginning of the dissolution of the Communist and Socialist regimes in Eastern Europe. Pierce plays the surly and tempestuous first movement as a dialogue between competing impulses in D Minor, D Major and F Major, an explosive outburst of sturm und drang versus a countermelody in the form of a hymn, espessivo. The hammer blows of fate seem to be pitted against nostalgic visions of lost hopes. Both Pierce and Freeman seem committed to making the development section of the movement with its ineluctable return via E Major over a pedal D as the climactic moment of the drama. The sonic balances between Pierce and often shrieking orchestral part are maintained by Otto Napp. The tympanist in this concerto as well as in the Strauss Burleske --with the Czech National Symphony --expends a full workout that makes a lasting impression.

The second movement in 6/4 and D Major gravitates to the distant key of F-sharp Minor, which might be an homage to the slow movement of Mozart's Concerto No. 23. The brooding calm, made of scales and held notes, evolves into a chromatic fantasy that Brahms seems to have meant for elements of his German Requiem. The woodwind and French horn choirs of the Slovak Philharmonic prove especially pungent as much as the string choirs remain elegiac. Pierce's upper registers glisten with pearly clarity, and his trills ring with exuberant energy. And so to the 2/4 gypsy rondo last movement, with its roots simultaneously in the bravura tradition of Beethoven and Haydn and the contrapuntal efforts of the Bach inventions and partitas, especially the orchestral fugato in B-flat Minor. The constant surges of staccato figures in the left hand opposed to legato periods in the right come as no dire challenge to Pierce, who negotiates the manic changes of meter and affect with stately aplomb. Even with the severe classical strictures imposed upon the seething passions in this music, Pierce and Freeman manage to infuse a sense of emotional abandon into the mix, a truly superheated effort appropriate to the occasion of the concert.

The big Scherzo (1886; rev. 1889) in D Minor by Strauss, his Burleske, like the Brahms concerto, has all traits of a symphonic movement with piano obbligato. The tuned tympani prove as dazzling in their effects as the chromatic runs and wild leaps of the piano part, whose figures glide from ¾ to 6/4 with the same swagger as we find in virtuoso Chopin. Embedded into the cascading mix are 'improvised ' waltz rhythms and echoes of Alt Wien. The skittish play of eighth and sixteenth notes often points to the irreverence of Till Eulenspiegel. While the interplay between Piece and Freeman has bold colors and feline grace, I find the performance a tad academic, at least compared to the wilder treatments from Rudolf Serkin, Glenn Gould, and Byron Janis. This, however, does not deny the colossal sense of scope this collaboration projects, its audacity of a young composer relishing in his potent skills in bravura keyboard figuration and orchestral polyphony. The touches of Lisztian sarcasm and devilish leggiero transparency that infiltrate the score--and even the humor of a bassoon's comments against the piano's legato--often expand and achieve a yearning spaciousness close to Mahler. The wayward rhythmic play more than not convinces me that Gershwin knew this piece and kept its aural image in mind for his Concerto in F. Much fun and bravura in this disc, given the relative frequency of the two scores as standards among record collectors.
-Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition, June 09, 2010


'... one of the most stunning accounts'

Even at the age of 25, which Johannes Brahms was at the time he premiered his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15, he was thinking big. The typical piano concerto was then basically nothing more than a showpiece for the often-vapid virtuosity of its creator, with just enough participation by the orchestra to give it plausibility. Brahms had the concept of a work that would be a monumental collaboration of forces at the highest level, with both piano and orchestra developing and extending its mighty themes. And at a time when critics were seriously beginning to doubt whether the symphony itself had very much of a future (vis-à-vis the orchestral tone poem), Brahms gave the world a concerto that had more orchestral muscle and contrapuntal might than any symphony or concerto that anyone else was writing in the 1850's.

With the superb participation of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra under American conductor Paul Freeman, pianist Joshua Pierce gives one of the most stunning accounts I have ever heard of Brahms' early masterwork. (Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15 Strauss: Burleske, MSR Classics, 1346) Recorded in May 1993 at the Reduta, Bratislava, both soloist and conductor must have fed on the energy generated by performing before a live audience. After a massive orchestral introduction, the piano enters on a series of trills that come across as shrieks, a countermelody in boldly expressive arpeggios, and hammered chords that work out the main theme in partnership with the orchestra. And we have not yet gotten to the development section, which will climax with a huge fortissimo heralding the start of the recapitulation. As conveyed to us by Pierce and Freeman, these are bold strokes indeed, and would appear even boldly were they merely gratuitous and not part of the rigorous logic with which the 20-minute movement develops.

The Adagio is characterized by calm scale passages over held notes, soft and delicate phrasing by the piano, and then a more lively, skipping melody over a rising bass line. The soloist is called upon to phrase a variety of arpeggios, trills and chromatic triplets, in the course of a movement that charms and seduces us with its immense lyrical beauty. The finale, a Rondo marked Allegro non troppo, brings forth the utmost in concentrated power and vivid expressiveness from both Pierce and the orchestra. A bouncing right hand thematic fragment rising through two octaves and set against a steady run of sixteenth notes gives you some idea of the difficulties the music sets for the pianist, with no let-up from the orchestra. Joshua Pierce handles them with consummate artistry that makes it sound almost easy. The music, which incorporates elements of fugue, simmers, seethes, and pulsates, giving way first to a quasi fantasia section and then a brilliant coda, on its way to a resolute finish heralded by a brief but memorable horn call.

Richard Strauss' youthful Burleske comes across, in the hands of Joshua Pierce and with Freeman conducting the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Prague in a 1995 recording, as a madly scampering romp, just the sort of thing that Tyl Eulenspiegel might have written if he'd studied music. With no fewer than 21 expressive markings in its 22 minutes, Strauss' scherzo for piano and orchestra keeps the listener continually off-balance with its unexpected changes, rapidly descending runs and swelling tones resulting from manic 3/4 and 6/8 alternations. That fits the idea of a 'burlesque' itself as a form of exaggerated parody.
-Phil's Classical Reviews, Audio Video Club of Atlanta, April 2010


'... sensitive pianism ...'

Joshua Pierce has already produced two Schubert CDs for MSR Classics, including the last of the piano sonatas, the Moments Musicaux, and the eight well-known Impromptus. He now enters uncharted waters. If, as seems probable, he is embarked on a complete recording of Schubert's keyboard music, he has a very long way to go. Here are seventeen German Dances, but the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe has already published more than a hundred, and the tally of dances Schubert turned out to realise the odd Pfennig rivals the sands of the seashore.

The most significant music on the CD is contained in the Three Piano Pieces D 946. They were written in the last May of Schubert's life, between the 'Great' C major symphony and the E flat Mass. They were unpublished for forty years, when Brahms edited them anonymously. The third begins with rhythmical complications in C, but has a central section of wondrous beauty in the remote key of D flat. Pierce does the music full justice, with sensitive pianism and a simplicity appropriate to the central mystery.

The piano piece in A major D 604 begins as a characteristic Schubert slow movement, developing also a more turbulent central section, equally typical of the composer.

It so happens there are three other movements based on F sharp minor, none complete, but all roughly contemporary with the A major piece. Together they could have made up yet another Schubert piano sonata. The German Dances are ancestors to the Strauss waltz. All are brief but of great enchantment.

Anselm Hüttenbrenner was a friend of Schubert's from 1816. His reputation has suffered greatly from the fact that he kept the 'Unfinished' symphony unknown to the world until 1865. But he produced waltzes on themes from Schubert's Erlkönig and himself wrote four variations on a tune in his Op 3 string quartet. Schubert made use of the same music for a set of twelve variations, with a rather more extended finale as No 13 as fitting conclusion to Joshua Pierce's fascinating recital."
-Music & Vision, Mark Anderson, September 2010


'Delightful...Splendid...Real Discovery'

In the keenly anticipated follow-up to Volumes I-II of his Schubert series, Joshua Pierce gives us a selection of piano pieces as delightful as they are mostly unfamiliar. (The Schubert Recordings: Vol. III, MSR Classics) Many represent the most warmly human side of a composer who, though he was not a dancer himself, was always willing to oblige his friends at social gatherings by improvising waltzes and German dances (sometimes called Ländler) at the piano. The wonder is that these on-the-spot improvisations were written down and eventually published. The 17 examples of Ländler heard in this program are witness to the liveliness, spontaneity, and harmonic venturesomeness Schubert lavished on these ephemeral miniature gems in 3/4 time.

The feeling of dance music is often present in other Schubert pieces that were not so designated. That includes the Three Impromptus, D946 (often called Klavierstücke) that were published by no less a figure than Johannes Brahms forty years after Schubert's death. The name is misleading in that it doesn't take into account the emotional and musical gravity of these pieces, for which 'impromptu' seems too lightweight a term. Pierce does a splendid job capturing the dark mood and turbulence of the opening of No. 1 in E-flat minor, which contrasts beautifully with the warmer, more expansive middle section. No. 2 in E-flat Major is marked by Schubert's tonal ambiguity and bold modulations, all the way down to a contrasting section in A-flat minor (7 flats required) with cadences in C-flat Major and C-flat minor. The main section is in the style of a Barcarolle with its characteristic lilt. No. 3 in C Major is altogether happier and more spontaneous than its mates, with a breathless urgency that Pierce captures very well, as he does its syncopated main theme and the hypnotic effect of the repeated notes in its hymn-like middle section.

Since Schubert is famed as the author of the 'Unfinished' Symphony, it should come as no surprise to discover that he left unfinished works in other genres, too. (His boundless inspiration must have frequently exceeded his supply of manuscript paper). Of the pieces heard here, the gracious Andante in C, D29 is an extract from an unfinished string quartet, and the Andante in E, D612, with its elaborate trills, scale passages and chromatics, is the tantalizing remnant of a projected piano sonata. The early Minuet and Trio in A, D334 is very much in the classical style, while the highly expressive Klavierstück in A, D604 deserves a better fate than its long neglect. Pierce concludes the program with a real discovery: Schubert's Variations on a Theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, D546, in which he has a grand time with the composer's off-beat and broken chords, contrasts in legato and staccato phrasings, running 16th notes in one hand against a steady pulse in the other, octaves set against 32nd notes, and other sorts of fun with rhythm, metre and time.

Pierce does a splendid job capturing the dark mood and turbulence of the opening of No. 1 in E-flat minor, which contrasts beautifully with the warmer, more expansive middle section. No. 2 in E-flat Major is marked by Schubert's tonal ambiguity and bold modulations, all the way down to a contrasting section in A-flat minor (7 flats required) with cadences in C-flat Major and C-flat minor. The main section is in the style of a Barcarolle with its characteristic lilt. No. 3 in C Major is altogether happier and more spontaneous than its mates, with a breathless urgency that Pierce captures very well, as he does its syncopated main theme and the hypnotic effect of the repeated notes in its hymn-like middle section.

Pierce concludes the program with a real discovery: Schubert's Variations on a Theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, D546, in which he has a grand time with the composer's off-beat and broken chords, contrasts in legato and staccato phrasings, running 16th notes in one hand against a steady pulse in the other, octaves set against 32nd notes, and other sorts of fun with rhythm, metre and time.
-Phil's Classical Reviews, Audio Video Club of Atlanta, April 2010


'top-fight performances'

" Brahms' two clarinet sonatas and Clarinet Trio are beautifully played by clarinetist Hideaki Amori, cellist Daniel Barrett and pianist Joshua Pierce (MSR 1322). Aomori is a seamless clarinet player and the chamber music aspects of these performances (balance, lines subdued to more important lines) are superb. In particular, in these pieces, after important cadences, it is up to the pianist to pick up the new phrase; Pierce does it with great acuity and a level of energy that propels the music. All three play with compelling rhythmic impetus, which does not prevent considerable freewheeling. Top-flight performances.
-Turok's Choice, No. 217, January, 2010


 

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