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David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

Last October I made my acquaintance with the chamber music of John Harbison, and Naxos has now provided a follow-up disc centred on the Amelia Piano Trio. Born into a musical family in 1938, Harbison started playing the piano at the age of five and formed a jazz band seven years later. Initially a composition pupil of Walter Piston, he later moved to Roger Sessions and Earl Kim to complete his education. Much of his career has been dedicated to teaching, while his compositions have become more widely known since he received the Pultzer Prize for his cantata, The Flight into Egypt. Now with a sizeable inventory of compositions, including operas, four symphonies, concertos and a substantial amount of chamber music, the present release covers the period starting with the Piano Trio of 1968 and coming forward to the Ten Micro Waltzes of 2004. Stylistically he is a restless composer, so that you never know which Harbison you are getting, the Second Piano Trio from 2003, an outstanding modern score, moving freely between tonality and atonality, often highly charged and imaginatively scored with an equality between the three instruments. Yet move to the Gatsby Etudes and you return to his early world of 'pop' jazz. I also much enjoyed The Violist's Notebook, a virtuoso score here superbly played by the Amila's leader, Anthea Kreston. The most fascinating piece is surely Cucaraccia and Fugue scored for four violas, the fugue both potent and pungent. Throughout the playing is good, the Second Piano Trio having been commissioned by the Amelia, and though Harbison is a composer that will bring a very personal response, you should at least get to know him.

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5:28:38 AM, 26 November 2015
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