Vincent Persichetti's (1915 1987) twelve piano sonatas were written over a forty-three-year period. The first nine sonatas, written between 1939 and 1950, are strong, integral and varied works reflecting diverse approaches toward synthesizing a number of styles and idioms. In these pieces, the voices of Schoenberg, Hindemith, Copland, and Bartók and jazz are variously combined and distilled within Persichetti's own developing compositional language, with an increasing emergence of an original style that reaches a kind of initial culmination in the expansive Sonata No. 4. The last three sonatas were created over a much longer span of time than the first three, appearing in 1955, 1965, and 1982, respectively. Each of these last three sonatas represents dramatic culminations of Persichetti's musical universe. Throughout his output, Persichetti employs a very wide stylistic palette, embracing diatonic and modal tonalities, pandiatonicism, polytonality, and atonal languages, as well as other diverse musical approaches. Like all of his works, the piano sonatas are brilliantly crafted, with the opening material usually serving as a unifying element for the entire piece. There is a strong penchant for homophonic textures, a great rhythmic vitality in the fast movements, and often a sense of very affecting poignance in the slow movements. Persichetti also uses scintillating registral contrasts and juxtapositions brilliantly throughout all of his piano writing. This first-ever integral recording features six world-premieres in persuasively stylish performances.
It has taken a long time for an outstanding set of Persichetti's 12 piano sonatas to make it to CD, but Geoffrey Burleson's performances certainly have been worth the wait. Although not terribly ambitious in size (all 12 works fit onto two CDs totaling approximately 150 minutes of music), their range is astonishing. In the first few pieces Persichetti works his way from a highly melodic form of 12-tone expressionism (No. 1, of 1939) through Hindemith's more tonal neo-classicism, culminating in the large Fourth Sonata of 1949, in which his mature style seems fully present and well-integrated. This doesn't mean that the early works aren't rewarding, or that the later ones all sound the same--far from it. Sonatas Nos. 7 and 8 are brief, punchy miniatures. No. 10 is the largest of the set, arguably Persichetti's most important keyboard work. No. 11 is a spiky, very harmonically advanced (read atonal) essay in several linked sections that still somehow manages to preserve a sense of melodic flow. This is in no small part thanks to Burleson's extremely well-recorded and sympathetic performances, which capture the music's fundamentally lyrical inspiration in even the densest thickets of notes (and this music is packed with incident). His excellent technique and firm rhythmic sense serve him particularly well in the big pieces (Nos. 1, 4, 10, and 11), though the simpler charms of Sonatas Nos. 2, 5, 7, and 8 find him equally at home. In sum, this is a highly noteworthy release of some tough, intelligent, finely wrought music--a major statement on all fronts. --David Hurwitz --classicstoday.com