REVIEWS OF “FOUR STUDIES”


Scott Noriega, Review of Bridge 9344
Fanfare Nov-Dec (2011): 228

“Four Studies on Basic Rows,” “3 Pieces for Youngsters,” “Lied, Anrede, Hymnus, Strophe zarteste Bewegung,” “2 Piano Pieces: Pastorale, Con fuoco,” “Toccata in 3 Parts,” “Piano Studies, part I,” “Displaced Spaces. Piano Studies, part II,” “2 Dances: Blues, Tango,” “Palestinian Notebook,” “Songs Without Words.” (73:21)

For those who know the music of Stefan Wolpe, perhaps the very first adjective that they might use to describe his music is complex. And in listening to the two major works on this recital, the Four Studies on Basic Rows and the Toccata, one would probably be spot-on with one’s description. And though these works may be complex atonal creations, they are made more palatable by their intrinsic musicality and by David Holzman’s obvious affinity for this challenging music. His account of the Toccata in particular is masterly in how the three parts feed off of each other, leading from the simpler textures of the opening movement to the highly expressive middle section—titled “Too Much Suffering in the World”—to the virtuoso, quasi-jazzy double fugue that concludes the piece. Compared to Peter Serkin’s equally masterly approach, Holzman’s account seems a little less radical in its more restrained, almost Baroque-toccata inspiration, whereas Serkin seems spiky and pointillistic in comparison; he seems to play off of the piece’s modernist tendencies.

The most elaborate of the studies, the Passacaglia, is a highlight of this recital. Holzman’s obvious engagement with the piece’s underlying developmental structures, encompassing the sound worlds of the previous three studies as a sort of climax of ideas for this group of works, in addition to his understanding of its concentrated expressiveness, make this music quite enjoyable in its best moments. His playing lends it the “timeless character” that Holzman and Austin Clarkson describe in their shared program notes.

Interestingly, the rest of the pieces on the recital are much more subdued in comparison to these former works. They are all under 3:30 in timing and display the composer’s other interests: jazz (Blues, Tango, Songs Without Words), his Jewish heritage (the four movements of the Palestinian Notebook), and “simpler musics” (Lied, Anrede, Hymnus, Strophe zarteste Bewegung, the Three Pieces for Youngsters) as he described some of these pieces himself. Holzman relates in his booklet notes that after a day and a half of recording most of the Four Studies, on the suggestion of his editor Matthew Packwood he turned to some of the shorter works on this recital. He relates that a smile began to grow on his face as the “physical and intellectual experience” of the more complex music made this simpler music more magical. Perhaps that is one of the keys to this recital: its need to show how one sound world may be used to understand another. Though Wolpe will never be a household name, if this is the kind of music that interests one, then Holzman provides a very fine guide through this mostly thorny and severe, though sometimes playful, world.

Richard Whitehouse,
International Record Review, May, 2011:62-63

the 'Passacaglia' on an all-interval row which ranks among the high points of twentieth-century pianism and had far- reaching consequences for composers as diverse as Elliott Carter and George Russell. It remains Wolpe's most recorded piano piece, yet to have it in context is rare and Holzman's account * drawing its four distinct sections into an inexorably cumulative whole - makes it a fitting conclusion to his powerful rendering of the whole set and a memorable experience which one would be unlikely to encounter in concert.

Mark Sealy,
Music Web International, June 11, 2011

Particularly noteworthy is the first complete recording of Wolpe's huge Four Studies on Basic Rows (1935-36). It occupies almost half this CD and includes the composer's most frequently-recorded piano piece, the 'Passacaglia' [tr.4], which is in turn the longest single movement here at getting on for a quarter of an hour. . . . So you're getting a mixture, a taster, of Wolpe's output for the instrument. You're also getting it played by undeniably the greatest interpreter of Wolpe's keyboard music alive today.