Classical CD Reviews

ALEC WILDER: Music for Piano [PlayList below] – John Noel Roberts – Albany

An amazing and under-appreciated American composer who deserves better.

Published on November 19, 2011

ALEC WILDER: Music for Piano [PlayList below] – John Noel Roberts – Albany

ALEC WILDER: Music for Piano [PlayList below] – John Noel Roberts, piano – Albany TROY1294, 57:08 *****:

Alec Wilder has long been one of my favorite composers. He died in 1980 at age 73 and his music never really made it in the orchestral world. His variety of chamber music has been mostly loved and appreciated by enthusiasts at colleges and universities, and his songs by singers like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie & Roy and others who have felt that they all belong as gems in the Great American Songbook. Wilder has been compared to Gershwin and Bernstein in being a true American Original— crossing over all boundaries between pop, jazz and classical.

Wilder loves to travel by train and wrote much of his music in that environment. He did little to promote himself or his music, and had problems with being accepted because the classical world thought he was too jazzy and the jazz world felt he was too classical. My favorites of all his music are still his unique Octets of the ‘30s and ‘40s (which Frank Sinatra financed to conduct and record for Columbia), with woodwinds (including Mitch Miller on oboe) and a rhythm section featuring harpsichord.

Alec Wilder’s piano music consists of delicate little miniatures, many under a minute in length. He never felt he could make a dent in the huge output of the keyboard masters, so he made his musical points concisely with pleasing the performer in mind.  As with his other music, they would resonate with today’s musicians and discerning listeners. He explored many different directions in these little pieces: unexpected harmonies, unusual ornamentation and counterpoint, and sudden bluesy sections that begin to swing a little bit (almost as if the performer is hoping the instructor doesn’t notice). It’s a shame Wilder’s piano music hasn’t had a decent recording until now, as have his many works for solo woodwinds and piano or woodwind ensembles. But at least we have them now.

Pianist and teacher Roberts shows a good feeling for this music too. Most classically-trained performers just don’t seem to “get” the subtle swing of jazz-influenced composers such as Wilder and Gershwin. (In my head I’m thinking of Herbie Hancock’s performance of Rhapsody in Blue with the Oregon Symphony last week vs. a live classical performance of the Rhapsody I heard a few days previously—ugh!)  One can’t just play all the written notes. In fact, Wilder always believed performers should get 50% of the credit when playing his music; find any other composer who has ever said that!

For more on Alec Wilder, check out booklet note-writer Robert Levy’s site: alecwildermusicandlife.com  or  www.wilderworld.podomatic.com

TrackList:  Sonata-Fantasy 14:31       Sonata-Fantasy: I. Moderato 5:03       Sonata-Fantasy: II. Andante Tranquillo 3:18       Sonata-Fantasy: III. With a slow rocking beat 3:42       Sonata-Fantasy: IV. Allegro 2:27       Hardy Suite 3:30       Hardy Suite: I. :56       Hardy Suite: II. 1:08       Hardy Suite: III. :42       Hardy Suite: IV. :42       Suite for Piano I 7:02       Suite for Piano I: I. 1:59   Suite for Piano I: II. 1:11       Suite for Piano I: III. 1:35       Suite for Piano I: IV. :59       Suite for Piano I: V. 1:18       Suite for Piano II 7:01       Suite for Piano II: I. 1:29       Suite for Piano II: II. 2:34     Suite for Piano II: III. 1:25       Suite for Piano II: IV. 1:31       Un Deuxième Essai 7:00       Un Deuxième Essai: I. Moderato :54       Un Deuxième Essai: II. Ritmico 1:03       Un Deuxième Essai: III. Lento :45       Un Deuxième Essai: IV. Légèrement :43       Un Deuxième Essai: V. Berceuse 1:11       Un Deuxième Essai: VI. Tempo di Valse :42       Un Deuxième Essai: VII. Chorale :49       Un Deuxième Essai: VIII. Allegretto :51       Suite for Piano III 5:23       Suite for Piano III: I. Moderato 1:25       Suite for Piano III: II. Slowly, meditatively 1:59   Suite for Piano III: III. Flowingly 1:58       Suite for Piano IV 5:40   Suite for Piano IV: I. 1:31       Suite for Piano IV: II. 1:11       Suite for Piano IV: III. 1:59       Suite for Piano IV: IV. :57       Twelve Mosaics 6:55       Twelve Mosaics: I. Promenade :40       Twelve Mosaics: II. Merrythought :20       Twelve Mosaics: III. Chromatic Waltz :28       Twelve Mosaics: IV. Musette :49       Twelve Mosaics: V. Pattern in Color :45       Twelve Mosaics: VI. Quiet Invention :30       Twelve Mosaics: VII. Undercurrent :27       Twelve Mosaics: VIII. Thirds on the Run :31   Twelve Mosaics: IX. Minute March :18       Twelve Mosaics: X. Pensive Lullaby :29   Twelve Mosaics: XI. Brief Ballad :44       Twelve Mosaics: XII. Restless Theme :51

—John Sunier




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