I’ve been greatly enjoying Michael Brown’s recent disc of George Perle’s piano music released by Bridge. Brown has the facility to handle Perle’s characteristic rapidly chattering textures, and the precision to project the music’s subtle rhythmic distinctions. I especially admired Brown’s command of the quickly shifting dynamics demanded in these scores, distinctly marking out musical strata. The piano sound is clear but warm. (Dare I say it? I prefer the sound of the piano on this disc to the brighter sounding instrument on Leon Fleisher’s otherwise magisterial recent album also on Bridge, an album that also includes music by Perle.)
Perle composed prolifically for the piano. The listing at georgeperle.net includes 20 solo pieces, in addition to concerted works.* Perhaps we don’t think of him as a piano composer the way we should because he eschewed the heroic and preferred smaller forms. Many of the pieces are comprised of multiple short movements – the eight pieces on Brown’s disc amount to 38 tracks. There’s nothing in his catalog like the Wolpe Battle Piece, Sessions’ Third Sonata, Shapey’s 21 Variations, Martino’s Pianississimo, etc. I don’t mean to suggest Perle’s achievement is slight – this is an important body of substantive music. But the music tends to be succinct, not rhapsodic. The preference is for lean writing rather than great washes of sound. Yet there is also considerable variety here. In addition to the fleet toccata textures that are Perle’s most typical voice, Brown’s album offers the introspective mood of the five movements that make up Lyric Intermezzo (1987), the biggest set on the album, and the expressionistic Short Sonata (1964), fierce of gesture and alert in its juxtapositions. The album encompasses nearly six decades of composing, so it’s natural that there are stylistic changes represented. The earliest piece, a Classic Suite from 1938 actually hints at Ravel in a few spots.
Perle’s piano music has been decently represented on disc with much of the catalog available in fine performances. Among other albums, there is an all-Perle disc by Michael Boriskin on New World; several solo piano pieces are included on a 2-disc Perle retrospective on Bridge (this album also includes the Serenade No. 3 for piano and chamber orchestra and the Piano Concerto No. 2 **), the recent Fleisher disc includes Musical Offerings, composed for the pianist in 1997/1998; and Russell Sherman’s take on the Six Celebratory Inventions is on a disc from Gunther Schuller’s GM Recordings.
Perle placed scores with a variety of publishers over the years, but it seems that Schott holds most of the catalog now, including some pieces formerly with other firms. (Presser and Peters still have important works as well.)
*) There is a Soliloquy recorded by Michael Borisken that does not appear on the Perle website list.
**) The Serenade is apparently the same recording that was issued on a Nonesuch disc that is still available as a download at Amazon. The Nonesuch album includes Richard Goode’s performance of the Ballade, the work’s only recording.