Charlotte Mueller

Woman's Work: Music for Solo Piano

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Charlotte Mueller's recital of piano works by women composers might be likened to an afternoon tea party: it's a pleasant hour spent tasting tidbits of the music of several composers, some more well-known than others, none of it meant to fill you up. She begins her program with Amy Beach's Eskimos, Op. 64. Beach used melodies from Eskimo songs, which have that modal sound of primordial music, and set them with Western major/minor harmonies, in straightforward structures and textures to create very effective character pieces for her students to use. There is an unmistakeable French quality to Tailleferre's Romance, a simple, heartfelt story in melody with an accompaniment of constantly moving broken chords. The three character pieces by Lili Boulanger feel very similar to Beach's, although they are completely original works. The way Boulanger changes harmonies in unexpected ways and at unexpected times, as her teacher Fauré would, is refreshing and palate cleansing. Two selections by Fanny Mendelssohn and a suite by Agathe Backer-Grøndahl are the more serious and denser items on the menu, more conservative and conventionally written. The suite has many Romantic ideals lathered on to traditional forms, with the Prelude being the most uncomfortable (kind of a combination of Schumann's passion and Bach's counterpoint), but the suite is completely pianistic in design. Despite the 1953 date of Florence B. Price's Dances in the Canebrakes, they have very conservative Western harmonies, and even the rhythms in them seem to be from much earlier in the century. Nevertheless, they are cheerful, light, and completely unfussy. Margaret Bonds' Troubled Water is a wonderful, jazzy fantasia on Wade in the Water, still quite in keeping with the uncomplicated texture of the other works here.

Mueller has an easy-going way of presenting these works. She seems very comfortable with the music, always making sure to bring out the melodies. However, there is never any difference in her touch, nothing to soften and smooth melodies, create more understated degrees of shading. Her attack is fine for the jazzier Price and Bonds, and she is able to communicate that there is a potential for more color and gracefulness in the pieces such as the Tailleferre, Boulanger, and even Backer-Grøndahl's Nocturne. Regardless, it is great to see some neglected works and composers get a chance to be heard.

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