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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, March 2012

The Enchanted Garden, refers to the garden of the mind of imagination and experience essentially. Cast in the guise of preludes, it is in two parts…Together they constitute a worthy set of piano pieces that can take their place among the best modern efforts, if not exactly competing with Chopin—but then, who does?

The music is dreamy, reflective, pensive, aggressive, very structured, free-form sounding, jazzy, popular, and classically-oriented. In other words, it’s all over the map in terms of influence and style, and is all that more interesting for it. …played to pithy effect by Shanghai Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music graduate Xiayin Wang, who has a real feel for the idiom. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

MusicWeb International, July 2011

Visiting what used to be American composer Richard Danielpour’s website, the visitor is now surreptitiously transported straight to the official Sony Masterworks site, where there is no longer any sign of the company’s former star composer, who, as a sign of the times, has been supplanted by what is mainly a lot of crossover finery.

Like ‘The Enchanted Garden’ itself, the individual titling of some of the Preludes leans towards the obscure, particularly in Book II: what is the listener to expect of or understand by a work with a title like ‘Surrounded by Idiots’ or ‘There’s a Ghost in My Room!’? In fact, there is almost an over-abundance of titles: ‘The Enchanted Garden’ contains two Books, of five and seven Preludes respectively, each Prelude being not only numbered, but titled in what at first glance seems a wilfully zany or quaint way.

Nonetheless, Danielpour justifies his choice of labels reasonably well in his booklet notes, and in any case, the music is the important thing, and the twelve Preludes, whilst far from ground-breaking—the “American Classics” appellation is once again overstated—are varied, interesting and likely to please all but the most demanding, critical or highfalutin of listeners. Truthfully, a charge of being derivative would not be entirely unfounded—some of the Preludes do sound like a fair bit like various 20th century luminaries. But the more straightforward, pithy and audience-friendly music is, the harder it becomes for musicians to avoid such similarities. In some cases they can even work in the composer’s favour.

Danielpour wrote Book II for Xiayin Wang, who gave the premiere in New York in 2009. Wang amply repays Danielpour’s dedication with a fine, thoughtful performance that brings out the best in the music.

Sound quality is pretty good, though some background traffic noise can be faintly heard at times—nowhere in New York is safe from that particular pollution. There are also a few noises off, especially at the end of some tracks, which, though barely audible, still should not be there. Inexplicably, the final milliseconds of both Books, which end similarly with a sustained chord, are faded down abruptly, when the engineer seemingly thought no one was still listening.

The disc is unequivocally short…

Jed Distler
Gramophone, July 2011

Although 17 years separate Richard Daniel pour’s two books of preludes that encompass The Enchanted Garden (1992–2009), the composer’s keyboard style remains remarkably consistent and skillfully crafted for maximum pianistic effect. Influences and inferences reveal themselves and often run rampant. The soft right-hand trills and delicate filigree supported by a left-hand ostinato midway through “Promenade” evoke Debussy rewritten by Hindemith. The agitated middle section of “Night” conjures up out takes from the Barber Sonata’s first movement, while curvy melodic figurations over a steady, loping accompaniment answer the musical question, “What if Erroll Garner and Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata’s first movement had a baby?”

“Mardi Gras” is a dissonant, aggressive yet not so memorable samba. Think of Milhaud’s Scaramouche without the catchy tunes or the witty harmonic turns of phrase and you’ve got “Surrounded by Idiots”. “Lean Kat Stride” sounds like the snazzier parts of West Side Story covered with lead. The ghost referred to in No 11’s title may originally have been the scary kind but there’s nothing really frightening about reams of notes flowing from the spigot of Scriabin’s eight-tone scale. However, when Daniel pour gets out of his own way and allows his lyrical gifts to come to the fore, the real composer in him truly shimmers. Listen to the poignant processional chords and discreet dissonant touches in “Elegy” and “A Community of Silence”, while the achingly sparse “Winter Solstice” unfolds in the best Bernstein/Rorem/Sondheim tradition and seems far shorter than its eight-minute duration. Most of Xiayin Wang’s playing is polished and persuasive but the jazz-influenced pieces need a lighter, suppler touch. If young pianists begin to add these works to their jury and competition contemporary repertoire requirements, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, July 2011

Richard Danielpour’s Enchanted Garden is two enjoyable books of piano preludes with subject matter taken from the composer’s life. Danielpour is an excellent pianist himself, so the piano writing is colorful and idiomatic in both sets. These pieces are easily accessible and formally uncomplicated, thoroughly musical and engaging, and should be embraced by pianists looking for uncomplicated and audience-pleasing new recital pieces.

Book 1 (1992) is a set of five preludes commissioned for a Louisiana piano festival. These are predominantly built in a language of slightly jazzed-up Debussy, with a little Messiaenic bird song thrown in in 3 (‘Childhood Memory’), along with an occasional burst of rambunctious Americana in the form of jazz and ragtime. 5 (‘Night’) is an impressionist tone poem about sunrise and sunset in Bellagio with a stormy gigue as the midsection. The coda is especially beautiful.

The more recent Book 2 (2009) consists of seven preludes dedicated to Ms Wang. The shadows of Chopin and Poulenc make brief appearances, along with hints of more Debussy and jazz. 3 (‘Elegy’) is a moving tribute to a former teacher. 5 (‘A Community of Silence’) is dedicated to John Corigliano. 7 (‘Winter Solstice’) owes a debt to Schumann and is the most beautiful piece on the disc.

Ms Wang, a graduate of both the Shanghai Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music (where Danielpour teaches), is a superb pianist and gives the composer everything he could ask for. Notes by the composer. It would have been nice to have had another 15 minutes or so of Danielpour piano music.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, June 2011

A few years ago Richard Danielpour’s music was reasonably well known through recordings. Then his name seemed to disappear, at least from the Europe side of the Atlantic. This release offers some reassurance since it includes a recent work composed two years ago.

In his notes the composer mentions that “this set of preludes (i.e. Book I) was inspired by my dream-life: the juxtaposition of and contrast between my experience of subconscious dreams and conscious reality. In a sense, this work is a ‘garden of the mind’”. Book I consists of five strongly contrasted preludes of which the second, Mardi Gras is overtly jazzy and the fourth, From the Underground, an animated nightmarish Scherzo. The other preludes of the set are rather more peaceful although the lengthy concluding Night is not completely untroubled.

Book II is somewhat longer and consists of seven preludes of highly contrasted character. Unlike Book I the second set refers to memories and personal experiences in the composer’s life. So, the first prelude refers to the well-known site of Persepolis visited by the composer during the year he spent in Iran with his family. Surrounded by Idiots, Lean Kat Stride and There’s a Ghost in my Room! are lively, rhythmic, jazzy pieces while Elegy was written in memory of his teacher’s companion. The fifth prelude A Community of Silence was written for John Corigliano’s seventieth birthday and is again meditative. The seventh prelude Winter Solstice, the longest of the second set, is more a miniature tone-poem evoking that Celtic Twilight dear to Bax, Moeran and Ireland. A propos Surrounded by Idiots the composer comments that “New York brings out both the best and the worst in us…but having a sense of humour about it helps.” Lean Kat Stride is a portrait of the composer’s wife Kathleen “in her more spontaneous and effusive moments” whereas There’s a Ghost in my Room! alludes to “a sort of in-house joke” about Danielpour’s apartment in New York being haunted!

Danielpour’s music is certainly not difficult although it is not necessarily easy to play. It is superbly crafted, colourful and straightforward. It never ventures into unexplored territory but is happy to stay in a broad 20th century tradition. That is what makes it so accessible and attractive.

Xiayin Wang, for whom Book II was written, plays with impeccable technique and musicality throughout and makes the best of the music. This is a really lovely disc that I enjoyed from first to last.

WGBH, May 2011

American composer Richard Danielpour was born in New York City in 1956, and he has Boston ties—he studied at New England Conservatory. He also studied at Oberlin and the Juilliard School, and has gone on to receive a huge number of prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Award and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, the Copland House and the American Academy in Rome. He teaches at the Curtis Institute and the Manhattan School of Music and cares very much about mentoring young musicians.

Danielpour’s second book of piano preludes was written in 2009. “The fine line between dreams and memories, between reality and fantasy has always intrigued me,” he says. “The ancient Greeks believed that the ‘real’ world was the unseen world.”

Pianist Xiayin Wang plays these evocative, polished miniatures masterfully. This Naxos CD also features the first book of preludes written in 1992.

David Hurwitz, April 2011

…very well played by Xiayin Wang, for whom Book II was written, and also sonorously engineered by Naxos. Certainly there’s no risk in listening and judging for yourself.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

Richard Danielpour is one of today’s most frequently performed American composers, his twelve programmatic preludes given the title The Enchanted Garden. Seventeen years separated the first book inspired by his dream life, while the second, completed in 2009, pictures real life experiences. Stylistically they owe something to the French Impressionist era and to the music of Messiaen, the wash of sound reminiscent of Debussy now clothed in harmonies in modern terms. Moving through the pictures Danielpour introduces jazz and outgoing keyboard virtuosity, as we hear in the fourth of Book 1, From the Underground. We return to that French mode of the opening Promenade to complete the work in a final atmospheric Night. The second book opens in a readily attractive tonality with remembered pictures of his visit to Iran as a young boy. Moods swing around the vivacious picture of his wife in the fourth prelude; the fifth is the inward looking A Community of Silence, reflecting on the life of artists, before he shows concern that his house is haunted in There’s a Ghost in My Room!, and finally Winter Solstice ends the work in simplicity, peace and quiet. The soloist is the Chinese-born Xiayin Wang, a pianist making a big impression in the United States where she concluded her musical education. It was she who commissioned the Second Book and gave the first performance in New York during the Spring of 2009. Technically outstanding, the disc obviously setting the benchmark performances. Very good and pleasing sound quality.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review, March 2011

Composer Richard Danielpour writes solo piano music that evokes the magic of Debussy’s pastoral eloquence in one breath and the drive of a Scott Joplin piano rag in another, yet transposes it all with a very considerable ear and pen, channeled by a man living in the world of 1992, or 2009. Danielpour’s two books of preludes, written in the years just mentioned, have an up-to-the-minute contemporary quality, yet also a timelessness that transcends all time.

The Naxos recording of these pieces, The Enchanted Garden (Naxos 8.559669), brings out the implications of the music brilliantly, thanks to the superb interpretations given by Xiayin Wang. She brings life into each phrase as if she wrote it herself. Her pianism is extraordinary and I would go so far as to say breathtaking.

It is the virtually ideal meld between composer and pianist that underscores the extraordinary nature of this music. It has all the poetic qualities that great solo piano works have given us from the time of Schubert through to today. There are reveries, moods of tranquility and enchantment, followed by contrasting turbulence and motility. There is balance, poise and expression in these pieces taken as a whole that invite comparison with Debussy’s Preludes; yet they are works that could only have been written in our time, that bear the considerably singular watermark of the composer, Maestro Danielpour.

The Enchanted Garden makes a bid to be one of the 21st century’s pianistic wonders of the world, in my opinion. And I can hardly imagine at this point a better performance than that given by the very gifted Xiayin Wang. Need I say more?

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group