Cheers once again to BRIDGE Records for championing repertoire that, for many, has slipped through the “popular” cracks but deserves to be heard and appreciated. Having pianist Kevin Gorman bring these two sonatas (out of a Bach-like 24—tempered or not) was a decision that pays off in spades.
Sonata #17 in A minor (2007)
The opening “Allegretto (Capriccio)”—living up to both of its descriptors—is somewhat melancholic, somewhat unsure of “where to go” in the early measures, but such is life in a world where the financial markets, then and now, virtually collapse due to an avalanche of greed or world-dominance ambition.
Gradually gaining strength, soon more powerful than uncertain, the ensuing capriciousness provides much-needed hope. Gorman readily masters the ever-changing moods and textures, notably a thoughtful “mist” only to reveal some understandable pain and almost relief even as a wee bit of Gershwin adds to the aural interest. After an uplifting excursion to the heavens, finally, all can rest.
The delightfully named “Allegrissimo” begins in darkness—were those bells tolling for thee?—yet is soon filled with confidence fuelled by a captivating, centuries-old song without word. This something old is new again quietly asks for a cinematic treatment.
Gorman balances all of the disparate—at times desperate—components while Bland artfully teases and tempts the ear, almost to the point of rhapsody. Where now? A thoughtful adieu, replete with harmonic shifts, before “nervoso” returns alongside extreme registers that usher in an empowered, pulsating finish; certainly not for the faint of heart.
With “Lento”, the mood shifts into an introspective canvas of quietude inviting all listeners to savor Bland’s innermost thoughts and declamations; bits of dissonance add much to the poignancy.
Then, it’s time to “sing”. Gorman most assuredly does, with just the right amount of hesitato. Once more the big screen beckons. Even a fleeting dream finds its way onto the soundscape, along with a quasi-Mozart farewell—but no, there’s still so much more to share. Only slightly differing weights on the abundance of repeated notes could have improved the result.
When all is said and done, a marvellously executed “al niente” brings this intimate journey to a close.
The little muse (aka “Musette”)—so apropos—comes as a welcome breath of fresh air after so much emotion and angst. Surely it’s time to celebrate ourselves!
Do revel with Bland and Gorman. It’s so necessary in these uncertain times—no matter which mode finally prevails.
Sonata #18 in G minor (2010)
Brooding, impassioned, the “searches” continue with the most free-form offering to date. In this somewhat “Ode to Survival” (we all have our challenges), pain eventually yields to healing, aided and abetted by deft harmonic shifts throughout “Allegro maestoso”.
The ensuing “Chaconne, with 5 Variations”, succinctly proves that while anchored in the day-to-day, life is full of surprises (wanted or not). Yet who amongst us doesn’t try to say the same thing in various ways until all can “get” our meaning? Gorman plumbs the depths with respect, sensitivity and deceptive ease.
The sorbet-like “Intermezzo” (heard on November 8th as the United States is most likely to become the “dark state” its “apparent” red wave has fabricated since 2020, soon to become the “Land of the shackled and the home of liars”—happily saner minds have prevailed), Bland manages to look forward and behind, proving once more how powerful understatement can be. This contemporaneous reflection on times past (Rameau’s “Tristes Appréts Pales Flambeaux” setting the table), can only ignite the unprovable thought, “Surely life was better then…”
The concluding Rondo (“Allegro piu Andante”) provides an energetic finale, overflowing with welcome hope, following the previous excursions into darkness and unexpected, but welcome, moments of excitement. Gorman fires on all emotional and technical cylinders to bring this most welcome disc to a satisfying conclusion. JWR