“Toccata in D” may sound like an innocuous title, but not for a work by an atonal composer like George Perle, who died in 2009 at 93. After a colleague told him that such a title would be “inflammatory,” Perle removed the offending letter. (Atonal and Serialist composers do not write in any particular key.)
The pianist Michael Brown performed Perle’s “Toccata” at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on Wednesday evening, presented by the Concert Artists Guild, which promotes gifted young musicians. Mr. Brown has recently been championing Perle’s music live and on disc; his recital was partly a release party for his new CD on the Bridge label.
Perle used elements of 12-tone and Serial methods in an aesthetic he referred to as “12-tone tonality,” resulting in works more engaging and lyrical than the dry, deadly Serialist style that alienated many listeners. Mr. Brown clearly feels a strong affinity with Perle’s music, highlighting the witty, vivacious aspects of the scampering “Toccata” (1969).
Perle’s “Classic Suite” (1938) adheres to the Baroque French Suite model, filtered through a distinctive contemporary prism. Mr. Brown played the poetic Sarabande sensitively and the “Gavotte (After Bach)” and whirlwind Gigue with flair. Perle’s “Six Celebratory Inventions” pays homage to distinguished colleagues, like the somber “Gunther Schuller at 70.” The jazz-infused “Leonard Bernstein at 70” evokes Bernstein’s “Anniversaries for Piano.”
The program also featured a work dedicated to Mr. Brown by Samuel Adler, his composition teacher at Juilliard, where he received degrees in piano and composition. Mr. Brown navigated the virtuosic challenges of Mr. Adler’s “Fantasy” (2013) with aplomb, beginning with the meaty chords that open the work.
Mr. Brown, a recent addition to the growing ranks of pianist-composers, said during introductory remarks that he had once played a piece for Perle, who replied that it “wasn’t horrible.” Here Mr. Brown offered his own “Folk Variations,” a characterful work incorporating pitches from “Yankee Doodle” and written in 2013 for Adam Golka, his friend and a pianist.
Mr. Brown’s interpretations of two other sets of variations — Schubert’s Impromptu in B flat (D. 935), which opened the program, and Beethoven’s “Eroica” Variations, which concluded it — were less distinctive, albeit solid and musical. As an encore, he offered Brahms’s “Intermezzo” (Op. 116, No. 4).
Michael Brown performs at Barbès in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Thursday; barbesbrooklyn.com.
© Michael Brown, All Rights Reserved. Site by ycArt design studio