Farwell: From Mesa and Plain; Sourwood Mountain, Op. 78, No. 3; Edward MacDowell: Woodland Sketches; William Grant Still: A Deserted Plantation; plus pieces by Cadman, Copland, Grainger, Roy Harris, AP Heinrich, W Mason, and Ornstein
Cecile Licad (piano)
Digital Classics DACOCD 800 76:03 mins
A Danish record label, a Filipina pianist, and an ongoing ‘Anthology of American Piano Music’: it’s a heartening global combination in these divisive times. Cecile Licad’s third instalment brings us to landscapes, something America has in dramatic variety and abundance. Viewed strictly as music, though, much of her selection appears historically interesting but stunted. There’s little jaw-dropping splendour or artistic breadth in Arthur Farwell’s ‘Navajo War Dance’ and its companions in From Mesa and Plain, or William Grant Still’s thinly stretched set A Deserted Plantation. Licad herself shrivels some of the music’s appeal by being overly fierce in attack (American resident Grainger’s Spoon River) or unduly dour – a distinct tendency in MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches, though the collection admittedly is less cosy than its title suggests.
Surprises and delights do exist: there’s the disarming naivety of Anthony Philip Heinrich’s Minstrel’s March; the florid European decorations flowing through William Mason’s Silver Spring; and Leo Ornstein’s A Morning in the Woods, benign very late impressionism from a composer most famous for granite dissonances. And though Licad might be blunt with MacDowell’s ‘To a Water Lily,’ she’s gentle elsewhere, and is sympathetically recorded.