Frank Glazer

Music of a Bygone Era

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Music of a Bygone Era Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Frank Glazer is an American treasure, but even in the digital era we do not have ready access to his many recordings, hundreds of them, made over a period of 60-odd years. Nevertheless, any American who experienced classical music at all on recordings before, say, 1980, has been exposed to Glazer's artistry in one form or another. It's hard to speak of a "comeback" for a 91-year-old artist -- the term just doesn't sound respectful for a gentleman of such vintage -- but in Glazer's case there is a mission at stake. Bridge Records' Music of a Bygone Era transmits an authoritative rendering of an entire genre that has disappeared, the popular piano novelties that once drove a thriving sheet music market and was the lifeblood of countless small-town piano recitals and the standard fare at silent movie houses. It used to be joked that such pieces only existed in the piano benches of little old ladies who draped their instruments in large lace doilies, but by the now even the little old ladies are long dead and the societal mechanism that once put a piano in every American home has long since vaporized.

Glazer isn't just authoritative in this material; he is as much an "original instrument" to this music as a sackbut is to a Renaissance wind ensemble. It was never the printed music, nor even the composers, that made American salon piano music popular, but the manner in which it was played. Listening to Glazer play Mendelssohn's much maligned Spring Song, with his distinct phrasing and way of rolling the left-hand chords, will prove startling to those who know Olga Samaroff's 1922 recording of the piece; the approach is more or less identical, minus the ferocious hissing and cramped sound of Samaroff's acoustical Victor recording. Glazer, rather than making his prodigious mark with one of Mozart's easier piano concertos as a child prodigy might do today, originally cut his baby teeth playing these very pieces until more studious concerns moved him into other directions. Glazer returns to these pieces with a spontaneity that is second nature; he knows this repertoire as well as he does his own name. The recordings were made in 2000 when Glazer was 85, and sound just fine, recorded on what looks to be a Steinway in the Olin Arts Center at Bates College in Lewiston, ME. Some may quibble that a Victorian parlor-sized room would provide historically suitable ambience, but the small concert hall in use seems appropriate. Not only does Glazer still sound like a virtuoso, he sounds like a young pianist, demonstrating how art can transcend all boundaries of age and infirmity.

Those who have older relatives who once taught piano, or once admired the playing of an especially fine piano teacher long ago, will cherish this disc. There are others who will complain that things like Christian Sinding's Rustle of Spring and Padrewski's Minuet in G should never be revived; they are too bathetic and sentimental and therefore should be banished. Music of a Bygone Era is not for that audience, but it should be for anyone who would like to experience how satisfying and fun music was before we all got to be so serious about it. Glory is to Glazer, and to Bridge, for returning a sense of dignity to this now historic genre that, in spite of the European origin of most of these pieces, was once as American as apple pie.

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