Friday, October 14, 2011

Thomas Pandolfi: review of two CD's

At the Thomas Pandolfi concert Sunday, I did buy a couple of his new CD’s, on his own label.

One of them (new, dated 2011) has a cardboard cover and no program notes, but introduces Pandolfi as a composer.  That is with Pandolfi’s “Improvisation on Six Gershwin Melodies” (about 13 min). He starts with the Rhapsody in Blue in the 1927 solo piano version. He follows with Earl Wild’s “Etude #2 on Gershwin’s ‘Oh Lady Be Good’”, then Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”, and Pandolfi’s arrangement of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “All I Ask of You”.

The other disc (2006) starts with the familiar Piano Concerto in F Major, with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Peter Schmelzer.  The performance (and recording) is brilliant, as is the orchestral playing. The overall effect of the performance struck me as a bit Ravel-like. The setting in F Major has always seemed curious to me; I'm used to thinking of F as a "pastoral" key (maybe because of Beethoven's Sixth and Brahms's Third symphonies.)  Keys, properly tempered, have real personalities. 

He follows with his Song Medley, which he lists here as an “arrangement” rather than a composition, and there are seven tunes here, but the psychological effect is the same as the impromptu on the other disc.  It’s typical in the music world to list “variations” or “fantasies” on themes by others under the actual “composer” of the derivative work than the original theme (as compared to transcriptions; with Liszt, the differentiation can become difficult).

He concludes the CD with “Three Songs from The Gershwin Songbook” as Gershwin himself transcribed them for solo piano.

The emotional language of Gershwin, at least in these interpretations, seems to me a bit muted, but in line with a major part of the musical world from the 1920s through WWII.  I had a friend early in my career who (a computer programmer and mathematician with professional articles published somewhat related to Navy and subsequent Univac employment) played jazz quite well as an amateur pianist and was quite into the improvisation art. 

Pandolfi also has a CD in which he plays the Paderewski A Minor Concerto in a passionate reading (comparable in effect to the Grieg concerto), again with the Moravian Philharmonic, along with works by Godowski, Labunski and Chopin. 

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