The word “sonority” when referring to the characteristics and attributes of piano music can easily drown a reader in interpretive definitions. These can include references to everything from a composer’s poetry and technical treatment of the piano to the quality of the instrument itself. Yet since gorgeous renderings are also heard on lesser instruments, this very phenomenon tells us precisely what the most revealing ingredient of an intensely beautiful sonority is; style. In this context, style is representative of the physical elements combined with a distinctive musical personality. Piano music is strangled to near meaninglessness without it. The styles that bask in the music on this recording call for the pianist to be a masterful technician, a probing historian and a loving story teller.
A pianist of remarkable skill, Brooklyn based pianist Alison Deane's musical gifts are the very embodiment of these artistic virtues. Her boundless capacity for persistent analysis and studies with pianistic luminaries of the 20th century have informed her very personal and sensitive approach to the repertoire. Ms. Deane continuously brings these musical riches forward, presenting them as always new as demonstrated here on her debut piano recital recording Reflections: Vienna to Brooklyn, for the ZOHO label. As for the very "new," she is regularly applauded for her ready grasp of artistic concepts in contemporary music. Composers who have experienced her treatment of their work often wish they were responsible for inventing all they hear her do. Admiration for her work is represented by all tiers of musical accomplishment and is very richly deserved.
Franz Schubert’s (1797 – 1828) treatment of the piano was vastly different from others of his time and was less about sorting through the craft and architecture of thematic development and more about immersing in the actual sound of the piano itself. These melodies were designed to be bathed in the colors emanating from the shimmering movement within repetitive broken chords and other accompaniment. They flow through modulations that might be suggested by the key of the piece or completely unexpected. In this way, Schubert’s piano music anticipated the impressionists and 20th century minimalist music which further focused on the sensations of sound within an implied key. The Impromptu In B Flat Major, Op. 142 # 3 and all Schubert’s impromptus present technical challenges that exceeded those regularly encountered in the typical impromptu writing of his time which was more readily accessible to lesser trained pianists.
The great 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C Minor WoO 80 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) are magisterial in whole and by the way each is shaped, connected and manipulated. Through sweet whisperings and smashing thunder, this wrenching composition is drenched in an emotional outpouring while is simultaneously humorous and sinister. They were written in 1806 at a time when the composer was regularly getting in his own way socially and professionally. Recognizing this, he had the good sense to retreat and confine his joys, sorrows and anger to the page. They represent a departure from traditional form into a more expansive piece, coaxing shadings from the piano that, by either design or necessity, required the composer to move toward advances in piano technique that he uses again a decade later in his last piano sonatas.
The brilliantly gifted Cuban-born composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill (1921-2001) is internationally recognized as one of the genre- creating fathers of Latin Jazz. His Suite could be this expert and versatile composer’s love letter to the piano and to those he knew who used it so well, including Alison Deane who is his daughter-in-law. Also a noted arranger whose skills demonstrate a chameleon-like fluency that succeeds in every genre, O’Farrill thrills by teasing the delicate and ferocious capabilities of the instrument’s broad dynamic range. This is music that suggests the endless possibilities of a vivid imagination when seated comfortably at the keyboard coaxing sweet musical flirtations.
Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) writing is unsurpassed as pianistic prose. He raised the bar for inventive phrasings while incorporating an intelligence for the instrument that was additionally enhanced from studying the work of Frederic Chopin and other piano brilliant contemporaries. The conventional approach to piano composition during early Romanticism was steeped in lovely melodies with virtuosic presentations that Schumann regarded as gaudy.
Alternate CD cover by Al Gold.
The Variations on the name “Abegg” in F major Op. 1 hail from the composer’s early musical life when some of his work reflected a very playful and mischievous disposition. Countess Meta Abegg to whom these variations are dedicated is a fictional person, a fantasy of Schumann’s imagination while the letters in her name (A-B-E-G-G) spell the composition’s musical theme. Composed in 1829-1830 it is music filled with frolic and humor, employing aspects of the more conventional pianistic approach as if to poke fun at the convention itself. Nevertheless, its considerable technical challenges and structures supporting the theme reveal a gifted intuition for controlling the limitless possibilities for blending the voices of the different keyboard registers. He was a narrative composer and his “tales” have been consistently alluring for pianists and listeners.
Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), born in Canada but mostly residing in the United States, was an early trailblazing Afro American composer of classical music. The exciting five pieces inside his “In the Bottoms” Suite from 1913 join his facility for piano writing with his adeptness for creating beautiful and lyrical vocal melodies. By skillfully blending folk idioms with those from spirituals and drawing upon the piano’s vast palette of sonic hues, these pieces treat the listener to a combination of lovely post romantic piano writing with modern 20th century Americana style and techniques. It is unique and sophisticated music that celebrates that most profound of all complexities … simplicity. Fred Patella
Alison Deane, pianist, has performed extensively as both soloist and chamber musician across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Europe, and has received numerous prizes, awards, and grants. A native New Yorker, Ms. Deane holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music where she was given the school’s highest honor, the Harold Bauer Award. The New York Times described her Alice Tully Hall solo recital as “ a dazzling affair…has the fingers of a really first-class technician…her performances are exhilarating…the virtuoso demands suited her superbly.” Other solo engagements have included recitals at Merkin Hall, Carnegie Recital Hall, concerti with the National Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic and Buffalo Philharmonic, as well as recitals and chamber music at the Mostly Mozart, Spoleto, Salerno, Interlochen, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors festivals.
Following a performance at the Kennedy Center, the Washington Star reported “…playing of size and expressive dimension…power, dexterity…substantial gifts of control and expression most impressively displayed.”
First Prize winner of the National Black Music Competition, sponsored by the Kennedy Center and the National Music Council, she is a recipient of performance grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Martha Baird Rockefeller foundations, was the subject of two TV programs filmed in Germany for the Norddeutscher Rundfunk, and was featured in a national commercial for United Airlines, “ The Concert Pianist,” performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Recorded at Peter Karl Studios, Brooklyn, New York, in April, 2016. Engineer, Mixing and Mastering: Peter Karl. Art direction and package design: Al Gold. Producer: Arturo O’Farrill. Executive producer: Joachim “Jochen” Becker.