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Sessions, Shapey: Piano Music

Roger Sessions : Sonatas for Piano no 1 & no 3 "Kennedy"
Ralph Shapey: Mutations I & II: 21 Variations

David Holzman (Piano)

Bridge : BDG 9243 [80 mins]

I have not heard a lot of the music of these two American friends and colleagues Roger Sessions (1896 - 1985) and Ralph Shapey (1921 - 2002) but both have haunted me from CDs reviewed long ago - - - especially Shapey's "Radical Traditionalism" (including the same 21 Variations). Sessions' Violin Concerto, made less of an impression on me then, though it was the preference of MuscWeb's editor, who had found Shapey "a closed book" - Chacun a son goût!

Well, here in 2007 recordings I am enchanted by both composers. Shapey, in his expansive variations over a 26 mins span, gives an atmosphere of calm certainties, "as if they had existed forever" (David Holzman); I have the score of the Shapey Variations, and can vouch for the excellence of its recordings by both, contemporary music specialist pianists who revel in the near-impossible. Shapey's magnum opus embraces "fierce dissonances and stern serial procedures" but there are helpful landmarks and a heart of "harmonic richness and emotional tenderness'.

Sessions pulls you into a whirligig of flux in the fist of these sonatas (1930), the innocent neo-classic beginning of his early sonata culminating in a "pianistically frightening" finale. No 3, a memorial to the assassinated President is atonal, with "a polarity between a despairing minor third and a comforting major third".

This is a richly rewarding CD which will repay repeated playings and is graced with a twelve-page explanatory article by David Holzman which is a model of how these things should be, but more often aren't.

Peter Grahame Woolf