Sequitur is a New York-based contemporary music ensemble that mixes up its bill of fare between conventional concerts, programs incorporating elements of dance and theater, and cabaret. Reviews on the New York concert circuit are generally laudatory, and Sequitur has instituted a label, Sequitur Recordings, to propagate the work of both the ensemble and its members. Rather than going through the costly and potentially hazardous business of pressing, publicizing, and distributing its own discs, Sequitur is partnering with an established entity, Albany Records, to get the discs into the hands of the public. This release, American Piano Music of the 1940s, is its second outing and features Sequitur's keyboardist and managing director Sara Laimon.
On this recording, two sizable American piano sonatas are flanked by a pair of smaller suites and a single-movement work. Starting with the larger scale pieces, Elliott Carter's two-movement Piano Sonata needs little introduction as it has been recorded several times before, famously so by the late Paul Jacobs. Laimon has considerably less competition in the significant Piano Sonata of Leon Kirchner, the first of two; the second wouldn't follow until 2003! The only prior commercial recording of this work was made by Leon Fleisher for Epic way back in 1963, and his remains the only other performance on disc. This is a particularly fine contemporary piano sonata, based in serial technique but not absolutely beholden to it, and full of punchy, hard-hitting discords and propulsive rhythmic ideas that, once your attention is had, you're hooked until the end.
As to the shorter works, the Carl Ruggles' Evocations, heard in their 1954 revision, sounds better here than on any previous recording, and that includes such "names" as John Kirkpatrick and Alan Mandel. Laimon takes special care to draw Ruggles' painfully wrought-out melodic material in the straight lines in which they are conceived, and doesn't allow vertical elements to break up the forward momentum of Ruggles' long line. Equally enjoyable is the Fantasy Rondo of Lukas Foss, another rare work for which there is only one other recording. This is couched in Lukas Foss' early neo-Classical vein, a style that many wish Foss had never abandoned as he once did it so well, as here. Leonard Bernstein's Seven Anniversaries are certainly not among his best-known works; perhaps with the advocacy of as sensitive a player as Laimon, their reputation will continue to grow. All of this music is played cleanly, without fuss and with an excellent sense of projecting the overall form of each work; Laimon must be a handy pianist to have around in Sequitur, as you get the sense that even if they had a off night she'd still be able to help drive the bus.
The package, designed by Lost in Brooklyn Studio, is certainly very well-made and attractive, with good notes by professor Michael Friedmann of Yale University. A little bit brighter sound to the piano, which is a tad muddy at times, would be an improvement, particularly in the louder sections of the Kirchner work. But anyone attracted to the program of works here will likely find American Piano Music of the 1940s wholly satisfactory.