Margaret Ruthven LANG (1867-1972)
From the Unforgetting Skies: Piano Music of Margaret Ruthven Lang
Lucy Mauro (piano)
rec. 8, 9, 21 August 2012, Bloch Hall, West Virginia University. DDD
Full track-listing at end of review
DELOS DE3433 [65:34]
In both 2011 and 2012 Delos released discs of songs by the almost-forgotten American Margaret Ruthven Lang. These recordings showed Lang to be a unique voice among American song-writers of her time and were very well-received (see reviews: DE3407 and DE3410). On this new disc, Lucy Mauro, the accompanist on the afore-mentioned discs, presents a programme of Lang’s music for piano. While the piano works do not have the same intensity as the songs they are still quite inspired.
Margaret Ruthven Lang was the daughter of Benjamin J. Lang, a pre-eminent musical figure in Boston in the latter half of the 19th century. She received her first music lessons from her father and later studied with Chadwick and MacDowell. She wrote extensively in almost all forms, but stopped composing at about the age of fifty, even though she lived for more than a half-century after that.
At first glance Lang’s piano works seems to have a lot in common with those of MacDowell. They are mostly short evocations of nature or of various emotions. However, Lang’s works possess a rhythmic variety and a searching use of harmony rarely found in MacDowell’s piano music although his works have a wider emotional range. Another notable feature of the Lang pieces is the thematic consistency in the multi-movement works, best seen in the Petit Roman in which a semi-Wagnerian use of leit-motif technique is used to tell a chivalresque tale of doomed love. The same techniques appear in the simpler One Summer Day and the Pieces for Children. Both of these works also feature an almost Baroque use of figuration as a tool in the thematic development. It should also be said that both these works give an insight into the child’s mind without themselves being childish.
Of the single-movement pieces two that stand out are Twilight, with its effective use of dissonance, and Meditation in which the development is much more varied than the title would suggest. The most impressive is The Spirit of the Old House in which the elegiac main theme is slowly fragmented by progressively more dissonant harmony, finally generating a deep sense of regret. Of the remaining works Springtime and Starlight are the most effective.
Lucy Mauro would deserve the highest praise just for bringing Lang’s piano music to our attention, but her performances on this disc are so committed and fluent as to be equally noteworthy. Most impressive are her presentation of Lang’s unique harmony and her sensitivity to the emotional content of these pieces. This disc merits high praise both for performance and as another step in reviving the fame of an important American composer.
A new and magnificently played entry in Delos’ rediscovery of this important American composer.
1. The Spirit of the Old House: Elegy for Piano, Op. 58 [3:21]
2. Revery, Op. 31 [3:35]
3. Starlight (1894) [2:42]
4. Rhapsody in E minor, Op. 21 [6:53]
Petit Roman pour le piano en six chapitres, Op. 18 [24:16]
5. Le Chevalier [4:08]
6. Madame la Princesse [3:43]
7. Bal chez Madame la Princesse [5:14]
8. Monsieur le Prince [3:36]
9. L’Épée de Monsieur le Prince [3:24]
10. La mort du Chevalier [4:10]
Three Pieces for Young Players, Op. 60 [3:44]
11. Happy Days [1:21]
12. Day-Dreams [1:21]
13. Rondoletto [1:02]
One Summer Day, Op. 59 [7:30]
14. Hide and Seek in the Barn [1:17]
15. Morning Lessons [1:43]
16. Picnic in the Woods [1:10]
17. Knitting for the Soldiers [1:58]
18. Driving to the Blacksmith [1:22]
19. A Spring Idyll, Op. 33 [2:49]
20. Springtime, Op. 30 [3:13]
21. Meditation, Op. 26 [3:25]
22. Twilight (1894) [3:40]
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