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Joan DeVee Dixon
Journal of the Society for American Music, June 2013

The tone and sound of the disc are excellent and reflect the highest level of recording quality.

Hirsch’s performance painstakingly displays the uniqueness of each piece.¹

This CD represents a valuable study tool for anyone interested in the early compositions of George Rochberg. These works foreshadow the musical output that was to come later, especially after the death of the composer’s son, Paul. Although much of the writing is from Rochberg’s formative years, it is fortunate that such pieces have been published and made available. Both the performer and publisher are to be commended for their work on this project. © The Society for American Music

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, September 2010

These three pieces are (mostly) youthful efforts dating from 1945 (when the composer was in his 20s) to 1952 (when he was 33).

Earliest are the first two of the Three Elegiac Pieces, which were written in 1945; the last of them was added in 1998 and was Rochberg’s final work for piano. The first two are tonal, the first lyrically beautiful, the second pushing out of that realm but not very far. The final piece is quiet, bluesy, and anguished, gaping silences interrupted with hysterical explosions...Sonata Seria (1948) was finally published in 1998. Its title means “serious”, not “serial”, which might relieve many. In three movements, the piece is cast in a spiky, aggressive neoclassical style. The first movement is a sonata form and, as Mr Hirsch suggests, has clear relation to late Beethoven (the Hammerklavier most obviously), combined with inflections of jazz and blues. The austere II is built with quiet two-voice canons, leading to the finale’s jovial fugue, which bears some resemblance to Beethoven’s No. 28. It’s a sturdy piece that deserves more frequent performance.

The later 12 Bagatelles (1952) are serial experiments typical of the time. I’m not sure the composer was completely convinced of the ultimate usefulness of the system; but these are musical, expressive, and entertaining samples of the genre—and, most important, they are very short. The style is closest to Schoenberg, particularly 11, which might have come out of Schoenberg’s Suite; but these little exercises do generally lead to firm conclusions, not enigmas as Schoenberg’s serial essays tend to. Like everything else on this program, they are useful and show the composer’s mastery of many of the mainstream languages in use at mid-century. Mr Hirsch’s performances are exemplary, as are his excellent notes.

Howard Goldstein
BBC Music Magazine, September 2010

Naxos has reissued the first three discs of a complete survey of GEORGE ROCHBERG’s piano music in authoritative performances by Evan Hirsch and Sally Pinkas. Rochberg ‘made headlines’ in the ’60s when he renounced serialism and became the presumed leader of ‘New Romanticism’; so it might seem perverse to highlight Vol. 2, which contains his Twelve (12-tone) Bagatelles (1952), but these are among the most beautiful serial compositions ever penned, terse, characterful, and singing. The Three Elegiac Pieces and the Sonata Seria contain some of his earliest as well as latest music. It is no surprise that Rochberg’s textures are always pianistic and illuminated from within, given that he was an excellent pianist himself.

Peter Burwasser
Fanfare, September 2010

This second volume from Naxos of the solo piano music of George Rochberg continues to enhance and deepen our view of this composer. It certainly has enriched my sense of his music, which has always been a bit of a cipher to me since I first encountered it as an undergraduate at Penn in the late seventies, when Rochberg was still on the music faculty. I found that his mix of styles, from serialism to neoromanticism, combined with his predilection for musical quotes, left him without his own signature. These two recordings, as well as a handful of recent live performances, have given me a more inclusive appreciation for his thoughtful, inquisitive, and beautifully crafted manner.

The music on this program spans the composer’s range, appropriately, beginning with the echt serialism of the 12 brief Bagatelles. These are sharply contoured, brilliantly expressive little gems, a good reminder of why Rochberg was so admired as a serialist long before he achieved wide notoriety when he “converted” to tonality in 1972. But then there are the Three Elegiac Pieces, with full-blown romantic tonality showing up in Rochbeg’s music well before 1972. The first two, from the late 1940s, sound very American; broad and Coplandesque, and bluesy and languid, respectively. The last one skips ahead a full generation, to 1998, in the words of annotator Evan Hirsch, “the work of an older man: deliberate, brooding, and fearsome.” The Sonata Seria, written in 1948 and revised by the composer one half century later, is a fine, big-boned work in the classical fast-slow-fast movement construction, but in a highly chromatic, at times ferocious language. This is strong and very compelling material, with enough distinction to be included in the pantheon of great American piano sonatas, featuring those of Carter, Barber, and Copland.

Evan Hirsch, here bereft of his musical and life partner Sally Pinkas (they performed the grandly exotic duo piano Circles of Fire on Volume 1 [8.559631]), plays brilliantly, and has contributed thoughtful and informative notes. Another winner in this excellent Naxos series.

Jed Distler
Gramophone, September 2010

Evan Hirsch brings passion to Rochberg’s challenging and elusive piano works

A critic colleague of mine wrote that serial music is only good at expressing anger and suffering. There’s a kernel of truth to that statement, and I think George Rochberg would have agreed. For example, the terse, petulant and dissonant surface style of his Twelve Bagatelles (1952) consistently stymies the lyrical gestures lurking underneath that are dying to break out into pure, unadulterated melody.

The Sonata Seria from 1948 also occupies a kind of tonal no-man’s-land, although the volatile outer movement’s brilliant keyboard deployment and polyphonic swagger convey the same visceral impact as Leon Kirshner’s stylistically similar keyboard works. By contrast, the central slow movement is a lengthy, sustained and melodically attractive two-voice canon. Unabashed tonality and stark registral extremes characterise the spacious Three Elegiac Pieces. Aside from harshness in loud passages, the engineering conveys pianist Evan Hirsch’s superb dynamic control, multi-hued nuances in soft passages, and incisive technical aplomb. Hirsch’s conviction and genuine love for this music come through in every bar, while the insightful, informative booklet-notes prove the pianist to be equally articulate away from the keyboard.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2010

Two traumatic experiences, the first coming experiences in front-line service during the Second World War, and the later death of his 15-year-old son, have forcibly punctuated George Rochberg’s compositional life. Born in New Jersey in 1918, he had begun his studies as a composer when he was drafted into the US army in 1942. The effect of all he had seen in the European conflict had a delayed action on his music, at first seemingly in the mood of relief when writing in a tonal idiom. But by the time we come to the Twelve Bagatelles of 1952 he had moved to atonality and was devoted to serial technique in direct lineage of the Second Viennese School. They are, with three exceptions, short, each lasting less than a minute. Beauty is in the eye and ear of the beholder, the performer on this disc, Evan Hirsch—who also writes the highly informative notes with the disc—obviously finding interesting things that elude me. How radically Rochberg changed is highlighted in the following two works, both begun in 1948 and mostly in the world of approachable tonality. He completed the Three Elegiac Pieces in 1998 adding a third movement that is stylistically much different and hovering between tonality and atonality.The Sonata Seria was also commenced in 1948, underwent a major revision in the 1950’s before returning almost to its original form in 1998—so the notes inform us. It appears to be largely abstract, the second movement a traditional two-voice cannon, and the third a three-voiced fugue. The disc presents many different challenges to the American pianist, a soloist who specialises in music of our time. It is imposing playing and the sound quality is admirable.

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