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David DeBoor Canfield
Fanfare, November 2011

All the works are adroitly performed by pianist Soheil Nasseri, who negotiates the considerable technical demands of the music with seeming ease. The sound is forward and well recorded…I recommend this disc heartily. Haskell Small is his own man, and certainly speaks with his own polished and eloquent voice in the works heard on this CD.

MusicWeb International, October 2011

The headline work, Lullaby of War is deeply moving. In fact, it is a masterpiece. Small describes it as “both an expression of outrage at our perpetual rationalizations for making war and an offering of compassion for its victims.” It consists of six anti-war poems—two about the American Civil War, two from World War I and two modern pieces, linked together by what Small describes as a “prayer theme”.

That may sound worthy but unpromising, but the poetry is very well chosen...and beautifully read. Those unexcited by the thought of an over-the-top Broadway-style narration need have no fear—Martin Rayner was born and brought up in England and his accent, though very slightly Americanised, remains mild, mellifluous and non-rhotic, with no affectations or irritating peccadillos—a mispronunciation of “Guernica” and the American rendition of “shone” aside! More importantly, of course, Rayner is evidently a fine actor, old-school in a good way—‘Shakespearean’—and has thought carefully about every phrase.

Furthermore, Small’s music reflects the texts marvellously: it is intense, ironic, exhortatory, sad, militaristic and angry, and makes imaginative and poignant use of silence and resonance. The work is altogether brilliantly played by Iranian American Soheil Nasseri, who commissioned the work and gave its world premiere in 2007.

The poem texts are not included in the booklet, but can be downloaded for free from the Naxos website. The Lullaby of War, with the piano part effortlessly performed by Small himself, can be watched in a series of four YouTube videos on the composer’s website. Narration is here shared by Rayner and a female voice, and poignant war images underline the power of Small’s music.

Sound quality is excellent, the CD booklet brief but informative.

In sum, this is one of those occasional discs that really does live up to the ‘American Classics’ label.

Rob Haskins
American Record Guide, September 2011

Haskell Small (b. 1948) is equally accomplished as both a pianist and composer (he counts among his teachers Leon Fleisher and Vincent Persichetti). The sound of his music is resolutely eclectic, though in the main he uses a slightly dissonant idiom (the building blocks are often extended triads), straightforward—even conservative—rhythms, and traditional ideas about form and musical development. The newest piece on this release, Lullaby of War (2007), was written for its performer here, the young American Soheil Nasseri. Six poems critical of war (beautifully read by Martin Rayner) alternate with musical utterances for the solo piano. Pianist and reader remain apart—probably the best way to approach these poems with their extreme subtleties of language. (Naxos doesn’t print the texts, but they are available online.)…the final work—Three Etudes in Sound (1993)—engages me more than the others: the musical materials are more coherent, more tightly controlled, and the three-movement work also makes more sense as a whole than the other two. Mr Nasseri, who has the skill and insight to do almost any music he wishes, is a passionate advocate for these works and is to be commended for devoting so much of his career to new music. (In all, he’s commissioned 9 pieces and premiered 24.), June 2011

War is also also the focus of Haskell Small (born 1948) in Lullaby of War (2007), in which narrator Martin Rayner declaims poetry by Stephen Crane, Walt Whitman and, among others, Joy Harjo (“I smelled the burning grease of corpses after they were lit by the pages of our poems”). The emotions evoked here are predictable, the poetry—most of it little known—appropriate in its antiwar sentiments, and the use of piano (very well played by Soheil Nasseri) frequently original. More interesting in several ways is Renoir’s Feast (2005), which uses a bridge passage along the lines of the Promenade in Pictures at an Exhibition to celebrate a different sort of art from that portrayed by Mussorgsky. Small’s interest here is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, and he offers musical “portraits” of the various characters in the painting, giving them personalities that he infers from Renoir’s work. Listeners unfamiliar with the painting will nevertheless find elements of this piano suite enjoyable—but it takes knowledge of Renoir to appreciate Small’s piece fully. For Three Etudes in Sound (1993), on the other hand, no special knowledge is needed: this is an intriguing combination of multiple textures and ideas that the pianist must decide how to mix, match and emphasize. Nasseri provides exemplary readings throughout this CD.

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