DAVID SHENTON (b.19??): Piano Sonata, Op. 77, 6 Musical Oddities, Op. 81, Ballade, Op. 80, Variations on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (after Chopin’s Etudes).
Catalogue Number: 01X059
Label: Steinway & Sons
Description: This CD is basically an unalloyed delight. The multi-talented composer/arranger/violinist/pianist has produced works for the concert hall, Broadway shows, and film and television. His twin enthusiasms are the Romantic period in "classical" music, and jazz, and both are fused, blended, combined, and celebrated with humour and elegant sophistication in these irresistibly attractive and instantly accessible works. The "Oddities" - Shenton's newly coined "genre" are character pieces, jazz-inflected or jazz tout court - a cheeky modern take on a baroque keyboard sonata, a waltz danced by someone who can’t follow a 3/4 rhythm, a playful rondo, and so on. Ballade is Shenton's affectionate response to Chopin's masterworks with that title. The piece follows a similar Romantic dramatic arc to its models, with an inquiring, contemplative first section, a stormy middle part, after which the skies clear only to give way to a virtuosic development and finally a resumption of the calm opening. The work is so full-hearted that it would be churlish to describe it as pastiche. The same must be said of the 35-minute, four-movement Sonata, despite its clearly being modelled closely on those by Chopin, Beethoven, and Brahms, with suggestions of Mendelssohn and Schumann (in the scherzo) and Rachmaninov (in the slow movement). A whiff of showtunes about some of the themes, and a slight modal inflection to the main theme of the rondo finale hint at Shenton’s background and particulars of the commission to which the work was written, and the piece as a whole is a fine sonata by any standards. The Santa variations after Chopin’s Studies is as clever as it is hilarious. Taking elements from the 24 Studies in turn, their themes and harmonies are altered to accommodate those of "Santa Claus is coming to town". The result is a pianistically uncompromising quarter hour that belongs in the company of PDQ Bach, Hoffnung, and Reizenstein's Lambeth Walk Variations. If you don’t laugh out loud at least half a dozen times during the piece (Oh, the "Ocean" Étude!), you should probably check to make sure you still have a pulse. Joanne Polk (piano).