Griffes: Piano Music

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LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Griffes: Piano Music
WORKS: Three Tone-Pictures, Op. 5; Fantasy Pictres, Op. 6; Roman Sketches, Op. 7; Piano Sonata; De profundis; A Winter Landscape; Three Preludes
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano)


The short-lived Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884–1920) was one of the last American composers to take inspiration wholly from Europe, without regard for vernacular traditions. But his music reflects, rather than his academic German training, his assured handling of more up-to-date influences. These are revealed in the Three Tone-Pictures: ‘The Lake at Evening’ with tolling repeated notes like those of Ravel’s ‘Le gibet’; ‘The Vale of Dreams’ with Scriabin-like drifting harmonies; ‘The Night Winds’ with swirling Debussyan arpeggios. Similar Impressionist and post-Impressionist pictures make up the three Fantasy Pieces and the four Roman Sketches – the latter including the exotic ‘The White Peacock’. But the wartime Sonata is something else, a concise and powerful abstract essay.

To these relatively familiar pieces, published in or soon after the composer’s lifetime, Garrick Ohlsson has added two melancholy meditations, De profundis and A Winter Landscape, and three tiny Preludes from an unfinished set.

Ohlsson’s performances throughout are a judicious blend of absolute technical security and fantasy, giving especially appealing treatment to the simple melodies that emerge occasionally from Griffes’s teeming textures. With exemplary recorded sound and useful notes, this disc makes a compelling case for a masterly figure in American musical history.


Anthony Burton