Steffen Schleiermacher

The Bad Boys!: George Antheil, Henry Cowell, Leo Ornstein

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AllMusic Review by

The first volume of his two disc series on bad boys of 20th century music is a far more successful trip through the avant inferno than the second. Here, the works wonders like Henry Cowell -- who has no less than 13 pieces here (hooray!) -- George Antheil, and Leo Ornstein, who was still alive at the time of this recording (he was 99 in November of 1993), are played by a young pianist with a total flare for the work. Unlike the liberties one can take with a score by John Zorn, there are far more restrictive boundaries in the works of these men. While Antheil and Ornstein may have been weirder in terms of the players of their generation, it is Cowell who is the true giant. His tonal and timbral explorations of mood, color, and mode are still unrivaled for their complexity of spirit. He coined the term "tone clusters" and employed them as no one else ever has. He discovered polytriadic harmony and dissonant counterpoint. All of these brilliant works bear that out and Schliermacher's unique skill with the foot pedals do as well. These majestic works range from 1912 to 1958 and show clearly the stage that Cowell set for Conlon Nancarrow and John Cage. The "Second Sonata" by Antheil, "The Airplane" reveals the composer's jazz tendencies, particularly his love of Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin, and an inner darkness that kept the joy of his influences from completely shining through. However, this moodiness is offset by their utterly mellifluent use of counterpoint and whole tone strategies that make them more mysterious than dark. Ornstein's "Suicide in Airplane" is as infamous a work now as it was in 1915. Dramatic as a crash, it flows through the middle and lower registers in whole tones, always descending. It seems there is no bottom to this dramatic spiral. "Wild Men's Dance" is pure cacophony, and we're to be grateful it's the last piece here. Cowell himself would have of course been enough, but Antheil is a welcome if melancholy companion. Schliermacher would have served this collection better, however, even with his great interpretive abilities, if he'd left off the Ornstein pieces.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:50
2
2:59
3 4:33
4
2:47
5 2:46
6 2:20
7 3:40
Encores to Dynamic Motion (5), for piano, HC 213/2-6
8 0:50
9 0:59
10
1:39
11 3:53
12
4:14
13 3:01
The Airplane Sonata, for piano (a.k.a. "Second Sonata"), W. 40
14
3:08
15
2:42
Sonata Sauvage, for piano, W. 41
16
4:11
17
5:19
18
1:11
19
2:16
20
5:24
21
6:12
22
5:46
23
3:20
blue highlight denotes track pick