Piano Sonata No. 4 ...
Lees: Piano Sonata No. 4; Mirrors; Fantasy Variations
Ian Hobson, piano. Albany 227--65 minutes
"The rugged, restless, often contrapuntal piano music of American composer Benjamin Lees gets a virtuostic workout here with pianist Ian Hobson. The Allegro con energico of Lees' 1964 Sonata No. 4 thunders in dramatically, and Hobson's intensity continues unabated through later works, including the just as taxing Mirrors, written for Hobson himself in 1992, and a set of 17 terse, compact Fantasy Variations composed in 1983 for Emanuel Ax. The spareness of Lees' harmonies and the clarity of his musical narrative coexist with haunting bursts of lyricism and a continual exploitation of hard, tensile piano sonorities. He sounds a bit like an American Frank Martin. This is intellectually stimulating, emotionally involving music, powerfully performed, with realistic, unadorned piano sound."
American Record Guide
"...There is a real creative power here, a strong, commanding voice--authentic, uncompromising and quite abstract, yet consistently traditional in the logic of its approach to structure. The music is varied in character and tonal, if not likely to be heard that way. It is neither 'Classical' nor 'Romantic' in any meaningful sense, neo- or otherwise.
"...As indicated earlier, this music is destined from the start to reach a very small audience. There is absolutely nothing meretricious or ingratiating that might win listeners' sympathies--no 'cheap thrills,' no extramusical references--neither poetic, historical nor affective, no fashionable systems or isms, no pretty melodies, no rich harmonies--just a very solid balance among the high quality of material, high quality of content, and high quality of workmanship. In this sense Lees shares something (though not his 'sound') in common with Frank Martin and (even more) with the late music of Walter Piston. I strongly urge listeners who appreciate those two to seek out Lees. A bit of patience will be rewarded generously, as more and more dimensions catch one's attention. Though perhaps not grasped right away, there is real depth and substance here
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