Joel Fan

West of the Sun: Music of the Americas

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The idea of doing a piano recital of music from the Americas is not new, yet American pianist Joel Fan promises a "fresh look" in this disc. He doesn't specifically say what the fresh look consists of, and his rather broad characterization of the New World's music as marked by "seductive Latin rhythms, sophisticated European compositional techniques, American enterprise, and the powerful currents of colonialism, black and white, male and female" gives only a vague idea of what to expect. But Fan's music-making can speak for itself. His piano textures are worth hearing in themselves, for he is an exceptionally fluent, lyrical player with a fine sense of mystery in the slow movements of the piano sonatas by Ginastera and Barber. And the program he offers here is a really fascinating thing on several levels. He includes some fairly unusual pieces, and there's a reason for each one. Drawing equally on South and North American traditions, Fan establishes a bedrock trait of music in the New World: it is influenced by popular rhythms. Then he shows how this trait has developed and been commented upon since the late nineteenth century. In the full-fledged piano sonatas, the popular rhythms are a bit farther in the background but are by no means absent, and neither work could have been written in Europe. The result is a program that alternates very gracefully between simpler and more complicated pieces; the music almost seems to breathe and ruminate on the nature of Americanness. Individual highlights include Piazzolla's little-heard Flora's Game, from the set of Three Preludes for solo piano he wrote late in his life; Amy Marcy Cheney Beach's Fire-Flies, Op. 15/4, which has never seemed quite so distinctively American; and Margaret Bonds' Troubled Water, a fantasy on the spiritual "Wade in the Water" that takes on all kinds of new meanings in this context. With fine engineering from none other than Skywalker sound, this is a masterful performance.

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