Sonata for Piano
Sonatina for Piano
Six Pieces for Kelly
Happy Birthday, April
Frank Huang (piano)
Recorded 8 & 9 August 2014 at WFMT Studios, Chicago
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2017
CD No: CENTAUR CRC 3522
Duration: 78 minutes
Having been impressed with Jack Gallagher’s Second Symphony, I can now report that his piano music is just as good. Gallagher (born Brooklyn in 1947) has the knack of communicating without making it obvious, drawing the listener into a lively and warm discourse, and vivid characterisations.
The disc opens with the Piano Sonata (1973/2005), a three-movement work reminiscent of Hindemith (which is just fine with me), succinct, affirmative and very expressive music, the central Andante really quite lovely if just a little sad. The Sonata’s smaller sibling, Sonatina (1976/1999), is lighter and more nonchalant, the first movement with jaunty rhythms and the freshness of a spring day. Between these two works is Evening Music (1998/2009), twilight suggestions at their gentlest (if with louder tilts and some shadows) and with treble notes chiming picturesquely. There is also an expansive Nocturne (1976, revised 2008, advises the annotation, or 2010, according to Gallagher’s booklet note), less dusky than might be expected if expressing thoughts of another day done and a new one on the horizon.
When we reach the Six Bagatelles (1979) only five are presented; the reason is that the Sonatina’s second-movement ‘Berceuse’ is identical to the ‘missing’ piece, so one only has to be deft with the programmer for the whole set, which as a whole covers a range of styles and moods, and very effectively so, with Berceuse/Bagatelle 2 being especially touching. It is followed by a light-hearted ‘Capriccietta’. The final ‘Rondino’ may have you in mind of Poulenc, whereas in the stand-alone Pastorale (1978) the composer openly states a “modest homage” to Ravel.
Six Pieces for Kelly (1989) refers to the composer’s daughter, then aged eight; each one is evocative and includes a ‘Lullaby’, a ‘Folksong’ and a rollicking ‘Balkan Dance’. Placed as the CD’s penultimate item is the flamboyant, brightly-lit yet earthy Malambo Nouveau (2009), which grew out of an earlier work; and, last of all, is Happy Birthday, April – the composer’s wife, herself a pianist – a liltingly jazzy number sketched in 1976 and “fleshed-out” in time for this recording. It has affection stamped within its pages, and, for whatever reason, I thought of Dudley Moore – that he would love to have played it and would have smiled contentedly while doing so.
Throughout, Frank Huang essays with skill and dedication and he is afforded a close recording that misses nothing. If the sound is somewhat dry, though, the music is the opposite, although with many of the pieces being miniatures it’s best to dip in rather than take the whole at one sitting. Like I say, Gallagher’s music speaks directly – with charm, suggestion, fondness and, when needed, such as in the Sonata, vigour and resolve.