SILVER: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1996). Six Preludes for Piano (1991)
Alexander Paley, pianist; Lithuanian State Symphony Orch/Gintaras Rinkevicius, cond.
NAXOS 8.557015 (B) (DDD) TT: 66:02

BEACH: Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op. 45. Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 Gaelic
Alan Feinberg, pianist; Nashville Symphony Orch/Kenneth Schermerhorn, cond.
NAXOS 8.559139 (B) (DDD) TT: 79:02

After hearing the incredibly boring Piano Concerto No. 3 ("Gift of Dreams") written in 1998 for Vladimir Ashkenazy by Eino Rautavaara, and piano concertos by Swedish composers Johan Hammerth and Sven-David Sandström, written respectively in 1992 and 1990) (see REVIEW) , my faith in contemporary composers was totally restored with this premiere recording of the piano concerto by American composer Sheila Silver. Born in 1946 in Seattle, she studied with Gyorgy Ligeti, Arthur Berger, Harold Shapero and Seymour Shifrin. Silver has won numerous awards and her opera The Thief of Love was featured in New York City's 2000 Showcasing American Composers series. She is now Professor of Music at New York State University. Her piano concerto was written from 1993-1996 for pianist Alexander Paley, on a commission from four orchestras: American Composers Orchestra, Richmond Symphony, Annapolis Symphony and Illinois Symphony. The highly successful world premiere was given in Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra with Paley as soloist and Paul Dunkel on the podium

Silver has said of the work: "Conceived as a symphony with piano solo, the Piano Concerto deals with the theme of struggle and transcendence....the chant-like melody in the strings which opens the entire concerto serves as a leitmotif....the image of the first movement is that of a young man marching off to meet his fate, full of fear and courage, arrogance and naiveté. It concludes with a marching tune–the immigrant fleeing to a better world with hope and determination. The second movement evokes the intimacy of prayer and the image of being 'broken and crying.'.... In the third movement there is a dance of life starting as a simple melody in the pianist's right hand growing until the entire orchestra is dancing wildly." This is a big-scale concerto, episodic and substantive in nature, without a moment of prosaic writing and worthy of repeated hearings. I imagine the regional orchestras that jointly commissioned it and their conductors will find it very challenging to perform. In the solo part you won't hear endless cascading double octaves or mindless filigree, but the music obviously is incredibly difficult for the soloist. Alexander Paley is to be congratulated for his brilliant performance. Likewise, the Lithuanian orchestra and their young Russian conductor, Gintaras Rinkevicius, are splendid in this demanding score, which was recorded four days in January 2002, produced and engineered by Peter Newble and Andrew Lang. It will be interesting to observe if other pianists will perform this concerto. The CD is filled out with with six fascinating and evocative preludes for piano written in 1991 based on poems by Baudelaire with the titles The Sea at Cassis, The Pendulum Clock, Descent into Hell, In the Half-Burned Forest, There, All is Perfection and Beauty, Luxury, Calm and Delight and Toward the Paradise of my Dreams, beautifully played by Paley.

CD notes credit "angels," "patrons" and "benefactors" who helped make this recording possible. I'm glad they did! A major release by any standards.

Compared with Sheila Silver's masterpiece, Amy Beach's piano concerto composed in 1898-1899 is pure fluff, with pleasant if unmemorable themes and plenty of opportunity for the soloist for pianistic display (including, in the first of the four movements, a direct steal from Liszt's Concerto No. 2). Beach (1867-1944) is a major figure in the world of women composers. A great favorite in Boston where she played concertos of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns, Beach was soloist in the premiere of her concerto April 7, 1900 with the Boston Symphony conducted by Wihelm Gericke.

The Symphony in E minor subtitled Gaelic was written 1894-1896 and premiered by the Boston Symphony Oct. 20, 1896 conducted by Emil Paur to whom it is dedicated. It's a lengthy (42:19) four-movement work filled with Irish melodies colorfully orchestrated, quite grand in its own way. Alan Feinberg is a brilliant soloist in the concerto and in both the concerto and symphony the Nashville Symphony Orchestra is in top form under conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn. Tim Handley was both producer and engineer for the recording, which was made in April 2002 in Andrew Jackson Hall in the Tennessee Performing Art Center. Mr. Handley did a fine job in both capacities; sonic quality of this recording is among Naxos' best.

Both of these CDs are important, particularly the Sheila Silver piano concerto, and are bargains at their budget price. Definitely recommended!

R.E.B. (July 2003)