"A Suite from the Cloud Forest" was written for Eleanor Nelson, a colleague of mine in the Pre-College Division at Juilliard for 40 years! It was composed in 1990. It is based on the flora and fauna of the Tropical Cloud Forest. The first movement, "The Resplendent Quetzal" is a Beautiful bird of paradise. The music portrays both a vision of the bird, emerging from the forest and flying and soaring through the trees. The second movement is titled "Gumbo Limbo" and playfully portrays a wavy plant in a playful manner. It is a playful fugue with a melody that weaves and spins throughout the movement and is influenced by Chubby Checker's Limbo Rock! The 3rd Movement, "Poor Man's Umbrella", is a plant with huge floppy leaves -- indeed a poor man's Umbrella! The final movement, "Kiskadee" is another bird of paradise -- this with one with a bird's call which sounds exactly like the word: Kis-ka-dee, using that 3-note rhythm of the name which sings throughout the movement.
"Sonata for Two Pianos" was a piano duo written for Eleanor and me to perform together. It is a large-scaled 4 movement work focusing on the resonance of the 2 pianos, singing melodies back and forth, and exploring a wide variety of pianistic colors. The 1st movement is bold and grand, with Chiming chords and a real sense of momentum. There is also a bit of influence of Gamelan music from Southeast Asia where the chiming chords ring out with a continuous rhythmic intensity. It is also though in a traditional Sonata form, with the grand 1st theme group, a gentler 2nd theme, a true development of this material, and a recap of the opening at the end. The 2nd movement is intense and dramatic for the slow movement. The 3rd movement is light and exhilarating, like a playful scherzo. The final movement begins with a grand introduction and a powerful, ringing, and contrapuntal structure culminating with a repeat of the opening grand gestures of the first movement to bring the piece home.
Dr. Eric Ewazen - Composer, The Julliard School
ENGAGING MUSIC, BEAUTIFULLY RECORDED, SUPERBLY PLAYED
Pianists! Do not make the mistake of overlooking this new CD, even if the composer and the
performers are unknown to you. Everything here is magnetically pleasurable and worth many
hearings—-and many other performances. It contains the composer’s complete music for piano duo: a suite and a sonata.
Eric Ewasen (pronounced ee-WAY-sen) is an American composer with impeccable credentials who has taught at Juilliard for four decades and whose music is widely popular, although largely unknown to pianists. He is best known as a major composer of music for brass and symphonic wind ensemble. The pianists, Pamela Gordon and Pamela Penick, were long-time duo partners until the untimely death of Ms. Gordon. Both studied at the University of Alabama with Amanda Penick, the regional doyenne of piano teaching, and both have been on the piano faculty of that school. Their admirable playing is of a class that rises far above the level of local reputation.
The two works on this recording, the four-movement
A Suite From the Cloud Forest (a four-hand version of Ewasen’s only solo piano work) and the
Sonata for Two Pianos, share some signature qualities: voluptuous textures, often launched from soft or full booms in the bass and overlayered with quickly rippling figurations and singing melodies in the upper reaches of the keyboard; eminently pianistic writing that feels good under the hands; a tonal harmonic
language; singable melodies; and an overall sense that the piano is a glorious instrument to hear and to play!
The composer tells us that
A Suite from the Cloud Forest is “a programmatic depiction of four images found in the tropical cloud forests.” “The Resplendent Quetzal” uses swells of glowing sound to reveal a spectacular bird of paradise. “Gumbo Limbo,” a tropical plant with long, wavy leaves, moves from impressionist-inspired evocation to music akin to a line drawing, with long, wavy lines of counterpoint (even a fugue). “Poor Man’s Umbrella,” a plant with “large, floppy leaves,” emerges through a leisurely, swaying rhythm that suggests a slow and lazy barcarolle. Finally, “Kiskadee,” portraying “a bird whose call sounds like its name” is a genial toccata with brilliance and rhythmic energy devoid of manic drive. Its jaunty tune has the spirit and bounce of a sea chanty. The entire suite lasts for about fifteen minutes. With its vivid colorings and Caribbean-inflected tunes and rhythms, it claims its own territory in the four-hand repertoire, although Arthur Benjamin’s less sophisticated but once ubiquitous “Jamaican Rhumba” could be a second cousin to it.
Sonata for Two Pianos is a more imposing, longer work of twenty three minutes’ playing time. Though it has none of the Suite’s folk or cultural flavor, it has in
abundance the same kinds of ear appeal and direct emotional communication found in the Suite. It is beautifully cast for the two-piano idiom and it gives both players equal opportunities for virtuosic brilliance. The first movement explodes with energy, rhythms, and colors lavishly displayed, and proceeds through exciting build-ups to gorgeous climaxes. Starting with a slowrocking rhythm reminiscent of “Poor Man’s Umbrella” the slow movement introduces an upperregister melody, as of liquid glass. It returns memorably late in the movement. In between comes some counterpoint, often melded with characteristic rippling note patterns. After the quiet of the slow movement the brief scherzo is an attention-getter: lithe, perky, jazzy, and quick. The finale begins in a declamatory style imbued with luxurious arpeggios, and soon gives way to a toccata (though not so named) that exudes the confidence, optimism, and energy often identified with twentieth-century American music. An exciting combination of the colors and technical brilliance of the earlier movements brings the work to a grand, ovation-inducing close.
Suite and the
Sonata are clearly great fun (of the hard-working variety) to play. They
contain not an ounce of the nervous tension and anxiety found so commonly in music of the past hundred years and more. Rather, a sense of pleasurable contentment and even joy seem to be at the heart of Ewasen’s musical personality. (It is surely not just a coincidence that a broad, friendly smile dominates his publicity pictures.) He is well served by Pamela Gordon and Pamela Penick. I can’t imagine a better performance of either work than the live, unedited ones on this CD.
Pamela Gordon & Pamela Penick Duo Pianists
Pamela Gordon & Pamela Penick Duo Pianists have performed for over two decades in a variety of venues including Spivey Hall in Atlanta, with The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra, and on the campuses of The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Samford University in Birmingham. and the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. This recording is the last concert that the duo pianists presented before Pamela Gordon’s death in 2018. It was recorded live in the Moody Concert Hall of The University of Alabama School of Music in Tuscaloosa, September 23, 2007.
Pamela Gordon has performed as soloist, collaborative pianist, and as a partner in duo piano literature for over forty years. She was a faculty member of The University of Alabama where she served as Coordinator of Accompanying and Class Piano for the School of Music. Upon her retirement she was designated “Instructor Emerita.”
Dr. Pamela Penick has performed throughout the Southeast as both soloist, accompanist and mostly significantly as part of the piano duo with Pamela Guthrie Gordon, a partnership that spanned more than 20 years. She has taught at The University of Alabama where she was Division Coordinator of the Arts Administration program and class piano instructor.