John Alden Carpenter Chamber Music – Naxos

0 of 5 stars

Piano Quintet
Sonata for violin and piano
String Quartet

Sergiu Schwartz (violin)
Paul Posnak (piano)
Vega Quartet [Wendy Chen & Jessica Wu (violins), Yinzi Kong (viola) & Guang Wang (cello)]

Recorded 4, 5 & 16 January 2001 at Gusman Hall, University of Miami School of Music, Coral Gables

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: February 2003
CD No: NAXOS 8.559103

American John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951) is probably best known for his orchestral Adventures in a Perambulator and Sea Drift, the latter after Walt Whitman’s poem, which Delius set. Following sonorous piano chords that introduce the sonata (1912 or 1913, notes and presentation differ), it is the rhapsodic world of Delius that comes to mind with the violin’s entry. More likely this is a debt to Brahms tinged with Appalachian pastoralism. The four-movement design encompasses Dvorak-like nostalgia (as when arriving in the New World), and in the ’Largo mistico’ something quite personal and deeply uttered.

Reservations about the recording though; violin and piano are well balanced but far too close, the high transfer robbing the music of intimacy, and Sergiu Schwartz’s Heifetz soundalike is sometimes too much of a good thing. It’s a nice piece though, one well worth getting to know, and there’s no doubting the players’ identification with it.

Underlining the transfer-level imbalance, the String Quartet needs to be returned to ’normal’ volume. The fantasia of intertwining lines that open this 1927 work are more advanced in idiom, less reliant on folk material and contain not a few shadows; a likeness to Debussy’s quartet is registered and those with sympathies for English repertoire will be on home ground. The poignant slow movement is especially persuasive, while the last is a curious mix of Dixie slants and siesta snoozes.

The luscious, darkly-swarming opening to the piano quintet doesn’t predict the upbeat, daylight mood that takes over and alternates with more tranquil episodes and maintained through an impetuous development. The slow movement arrests in unexpected harmonic diversions that magnetise to perfect cadenzas; the exotic oscillations of the finale are convincingly gathered in the resolute and passionate coda.

While I can imagine a more varied account of the sonata, and if not everything Carpenter pens quite adds up, his is music that is instinctive, from the heart, beautifully fashioned, and with allusions to other composers purely coincidental. Dedicated performances and budget price make this CD easily recommendable.

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