The main quality of this latest CD by Jerome Lowenthal, veteran pianist and academic, is its playfulness. The opening couple of bars sound like it’s going to be frightfully modern and American but that’s just a witty opening to George Rochberg’s Carnival Music, written for Lowenthal (much of the album is Rochberg).
The carnival of Carnival Music is probably set in New Orleans, though the first movement rather joyfully rips off The Third Man theme.
There’s blues and ragtime; Lowenthal describes the last piece as “a tour de force of musical pleasure”, which also sums up the album.
Rochberg’s Nach Bach — a tribute to Bach — was written for the harp and sounds jaunty, despite obviously being about something more tragic.
Rochberg’s Partita Variations is series of pieces referencing various composers, chiefly Beethoven, but also Tchaikovsky and Chopin. It’s very clever, and well played.
Paul Chihara’s Bagatelles, subtitled Twice Seven Haiku for Piano, was written for Lowenthal at his request, and he uses the work as a teaching tool for his students at Juilliard, where he has taught for many years. The sense of fun continues with two homages to cats and a hip-hop farmer.
The album closes with Ned Rorem 75 Notes For Jerry, a 75th birthday present for Lowenthal. Indeed, the whole album seems like a present to himself from Lowenthal. Highly recommended.