Lura Johnson | Turning

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by Lura Johnson

This recording is a collection of five classical works for solo piano that represent the genre of Theme and Variation in many different ways.
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: I. Preludio
3:46 album only
2. Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: II. Gavotte
3:11 FREE
3. Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: III. Gigue
1:49 album only
4. Klavierstücke, Op. 118: 1. Intermezzo
2:08 album only
5. Klavierstücke, Op. 118: 2. Intermezzo
7:18 album only
6. Klavierstücke, Op. 118: 3. Ballade
3:42 album only
7. Klavierstücke, Op. 118: 4. Intermezzo
2:50 album only
8. Klavierstücke, Op. 118: 5. Romanze
3:54 album only
9. Klavierstücke, Op. 118: 6. Intermezzo
5:32 album only
10. Turning (1995): I. Song for B.
4:32 album only
11. Turning (1995): II. Nightmares and Chickens
1:24 album only
12. Turning (1995): III. Kowië At Dawn
3:03 album only
13. Turning (1995): IV. Passage
2:46 album only
14. Turning (1995): V. Carnaval Noir
2:41 album only
15. Turning (1995): VI. Coda
2:29 album only
16. Variations On a Theme By Robert Schumann, Op. 20: Theme
1:15 album only
17. Variations On a Theme By Robert Schumann, Op. 20: Variation I
0:58 album only
18. Variations On a Theme By Robert Schumann, Op. 20: Variation II
0:59 album only
19. Variations On a Theme By Robert Schumann, Op. 20: Variation IV
0:50 album only
20. Variations On a Theme By Robert Schumann, Op. 20: Variation V
0:45 album only
21. Variations On a Theme By Robert Schumann, Op. 20: Variation VI
1:02 album only
22. Variations On a Theme By Robert Schumann, Op. 20: Variation VII
4:08 album only
23. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Theme
0:46 album only
24. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation I
0:28 album only
25. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation II
0:29 album only
26. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation III
0:30 album only
27. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation IV
0:29 album only
28. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation V
0:30 album only
29. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation VI
0:26 album only
30. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation VII
0:30 album only
31. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation VIII
0:38 album only
32. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation IX
0:25 album only
33. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation X
0:29 album only
34. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation Xi: Adagio
2:45 FREE
35. Twelve Variations, K. 265 ("Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"): Variation Xii
1:01 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Turning is a collection of variation sets.

This recording includes three works representing the genre of theme and variations in the traditional sense: Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je Maman,” K. 265; Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 20; and Derek Bermel’s masterpiece, Turning, written in 1995. The inclusion of the other two works casts a wider net on the concept of theme and variations: the Rachmaninoff work is a transcription of a solo violin piece, and Brahms's set of piano pieces was composed using a technique called developing variation. As a collection, these five works represent the concept of variation from many different angles.

The Violin Partita in E Major by the great Baroque composer J.S. Bach is one of the most beloved pieces for solo violin. This recording features a transcription of the dance suite from its original solo violin version to a solo piano version by the Russian late Romantic composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Every note of the original Bach is present, and yet the piece bears the undeniable stamp of Rachmaninoff’s colorful harmonic palate, at times sounding more like Rachmaninoff than it does like Bach. The first movement, Preludio, is a case of dizzying perpetual motion, a cascade of sixteenth notes that barely pauses for breath from the beginning of the movement to its jubilant conclusion. Gavotte is a stylized, elegant, mannered Baroque dance. Listen for a "refrain," the return of the opening phrase five times in all, embellished in each incarnation. Gigue is a joyous, rollicking dance in compound meter, written in the form AABB. All three movements are in the same key, a feature common to all Baroque dance suites, which were organized around a single tonic.

Johannes Brahms entered the life of Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853 as a young man of twenty. He visited the famous couple at their home in Düsseldorf in order to further his connections in the music world and to share his compositions with them. The three enjoyed an instant and lasting connection, sharing musical ideals as well as a level of artistry understood by few and achieved by even fewer. During Robert's hospitalization for severe mental illness and after his death two years later, Clara and Johannes became even closer confidants and companions. It is clear from their letters and journals that their love was profound, and that their connection sparked artistic creativity on both sides. They remained close always, though they never married.

The four great Brahms cycles Opp. 116, 117, 118, and 119 may be regarded as Brahms’s testament in the realm of piano music. Composed in the summers of 1892 and 1893, they are sequences of lyric character pieces which Brahms himself described as “cradle songs of his sorrow.” They were written for Clara, who was thirteen years his senior and who, after a long career of concertizing, was beginning to experience deterioration of her physical stamina at the piano. These miniatures pleased her greatly, as they were short enough for her to play with minimal fatigue, and yet were expressions of Brahms’s deepest and most heartfelt emotion. Brahms feared he had gone too far with the dissonances in some of these pieces. He wrote to Clara, “I should very much like to know how you get on with it. It teems with discords.” Her response must have comforted and encouraged him. “For all its discords, [it] is so wonderful.... Thank you for this new, magnificent gift!” Since she could only play a few minutes at a time now, and because she loved these miniatures so deeply, perhaps they helped keep her alive. The soaring melodic lines, lush harmonies, and sense of yearning for the unattainable that we associate with Romantic style are all present here. But in addition we hear a dark, brooding quality that is unique to Brahms. Overtly impassioned and rhetorical, Intermezzo No. 1 is subtitled Allegro non assai, ma molto appassionato. The shortest of the six movements, it seems to wonder what key it is written in, as it asks an urgent question over and over again, only to resolve at the end of the movement with yet another question. Intermezzo No. 2, Andante teneramente, is the most famous and most frequently excerpted movement of the set. It is a stirringly poignant and tender piece in a simple ABA form, and has particular meaning to me: through a deep and sustaining friendship with the late Patricia Esborg and her husband, Svend, and through a process of self-realization during which I discovered Brahms to be my favorite composer, this piece has become my personal anthem. Ballade No. 3, Allegro energico, is bold, striding and dramatic, dissolving to a bucolic middle section in which a melody harmonized in thirds and sixths lilts over an arpeggiated pedal point bass. Intermezzo No. 4, Allegretto un poco agitato, is by far the most esoteric of the set. Introspective, tormented, and yet still hopeful, it is also an astounding example of canon, and sometimes double canon, which continues at the interval of one measure throughout the entire movement. Brahms showcases here his ability to write music that is at once highly technical and exquisitely crafted, and yet, still, one of the most expressive and touching pieces he ever wrote. Romanze, No. 5, considerably more obvious in its good natured, open, and loving mood, boasts a B section that evokes the simple pastoral joys of the Bavarian countryside. Intermezzo No. 6, Andante, largo e mesto, transports the listener to a strange and eerie world. With fully diminished seventh chords at every turn, Brahms conveys to us a sense of loneliness with the opening melody, played by the solitary right hand, that is matched by the darkness of the two hands playing that same melody in the lowest register of the piano at the movement’s close. This piece possesses perhaps the greatest contrast between the moods of its two sections. As a set these pieces are remarkable, touching, beautiful, and a true summation of Brahms’s craft.

Virtuosity is a requirement for Turning, Derek Bermel’s first major solo piano work. This six-section theme and variations was written at the Tanglewood Music Center, where Bermel worked with and befriended the French composer Henri Dutilleux. The piece is dedicated to him and to pianist Christopher Taylor, who premiered the work in Paris. Turning opens with a simple and sober “made-up Protestant hymn tune” in the key of B major. The hymn is followed by a pentatonic echo in the piano’s high register, “a mirror of my musical consciousness – East versus West – when I returned from Africa,” Bermel writes. The development of the hymn becomes more and more Romantic until the ghost of Rachmaninoff himself seems to haunt the premises, only to retreat back into the shadows. “Nightmares and chickens,” the first variation, follows. Here the hymn is, as says Bermel, “pecked out,” culminating in “a schizoid frenzy of pointillistic clucking” that he composed using serial methods. “Itchy, uncomfortable” high notes wedge themselves between snippets of the theme before the movement “evaporates” into the top register of the piano. “Kowië at dawn,” the second variation, is a portrait of a small Sissala village in Northwest Ghana. It starts peacefully with the sound of distant bells, but soon the town wakes and we are drawn into a lively dance, evocative of Lobi xylophone music. Next is a brief “passage,” perhaps through water, as polytonal arpeggios sweep impressionistically over blocks of chords, patiently seeking the opening “song for B.” We are almost back on dry land when the hymn emerges like Debussy’s cathédrale from the fog. This time, however, it is tinged with blues, as though heard at a late night piano bar. Ragtime meets a South American street fair in a sprightly and humourous fourth variation, “carnaval noir.” A rag reminiscent of Joplin or Bolcom leads to insistent chords in the bass that interrupt the festivities and finally quash them, as the piano’s uppermost register is ignited by the bass’s anxiety. “Carnaval” segues into a “coda”, in which an almost Cubist rendition of the hymn is played very quietly in the top register of the piano. The pentatonic echo returns as “the work spirals backwards,” describes Bermel, “into a hazy reflection of the opening song.” (program note for this work only by Mic Holwin)

Perhaps the greatest love story in all of classical music history is that of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck Schumann. Robert was a young pianist and composer, struggling not only to hone his craft but also with early symptoms of mental illness. Clara, also a pianist, was a child prodigy whose concert career took her to all the musical centers of Europe. The two met when Robert moved in with Clara and her family in order to study piano with her father, Herr Wieck, the man who had made his daughter a star. The two fell in love, only to find Herr Wieck vehemently opposed to the match. Robert and Clara were undeterred and over decades their love story came to include long periods of separation and eventually multiple court battles which finally, in 1840, won them the right to marry at last. The Schumanns had a passionate, intense marriage. Clara championed her husband’s compositions, premiering them all over Europe. A composer herself, she wrote these Variations on an original theme composed by Robert. As in any variation set, listen for the way the composer maintains the recognizability of the original material while creating ever new ways to bring out its unique characteristics, continually exploring different moods, atmospheres, and textures. In the final variation, Clara makes what amounts to the most intimate form of tribute: she winds a melody from one of her own original compositions around the melody of Robert’s that is the thematic basis of the piece. Clara also chooses this particular moment to transform the tonality from the dark and melancholy key of F# minor to its heavenly and transcendent parallel major key, bringing the piece to a close on a note of hopefulness and serenity. Careful readers may notice in the program information that Variation III appears to have been skipped. This is not an accident, but in fact an editorial decision made by the performer. Variation III, like the previously described climax of the work, also employs the parallel major key. Not only is it far too early in the piece for this technique to produce the desired emotional impact, but the use of that technique twice, and with the notes repeated almost verbatim, robs the work's actual climax of its potency. I beg Ms. Schumann's pardon in making this artistic choice, and do so only in the fervent belief that the revision enhances the journey of the work.

Mozart wrote these variations on the popular French song, “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” (Oh, will I tell you, Mother?”) in his mid twenties, a full two decades after he probably first heard it in Paris as a child prodigy on a whirlwind tour of European capitals. (“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” as the tune is known in modern American culture, is the result of the combination of this French tune with an English poem by Jane Taylor.) Mozart writes with amazing virtuosity here, always keeping the original melodic material recognizable, yet simultaneously creating new textures and accompanimental styles which not only demonstrate his compositional prowess, but transform the music into a myriad of colorful characters and moods, whisking us from major to minor, from sixteenth notes to triplets, and through canons of several varieties. But it is the penultimate variation, the Adagio, that becomes the vessel into which Mozart pours his most heartfelt version of this simple tune, only to transform it again, devilishly, this time into a courtly waltz.

Program Notes by Lura Johnson



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You have to have this!!!!
A great cd. Have been waiting for music by Lura Johnson alone. This is fantastic. Great variety. Buy it NOW!!!