Composer, pianist, and teacher James Adler has recently recorded several CDs of new works that he and his close friends and colleagues have written and, to mark the discs’ release, Adler played a selection of these and other compositions, the bulk of them from memory, in a welcome concert, in the Cornelia Street Café’s downstairs cabaret room, on April 21, billed as his “Celebration of New CDs.”
Making for a fine, spirited opening for the performance, the late Paul Turok’s “Tango for James Adler”—which Adler plays on “James Adler & Friends,” on PARMA’s Ravello Records label—proved at once intense and lilting, as well as somewhat dissonant, and involved the challenge of a fair amount of reaching, with his left hand crossing over his right, to encompass its range. “Beneath the Moonlight Tower,” subtitled by composer Seth Bedford “Austin, Texas 1904”—one of two of Bedford’s “Three Postcards for Piano” that Adler recorded on his “Introspections,” on Albany Records—is a romantic, late-Victorian/early-Edwardian-era dance, with Adler clearly conveying both the initial resistance to the seduction and the ultimate consent, and again crossing left hand over right to accomplish the reach of its highest notes. Kevin Cummines’ wrenching “Three Works for James Adler”—also part of “Introspections” and written in response to Cummines’ loss of his HIV-positive partner Kyle Spidle to meningitis—were represented here by the first of these, the “Toccata,” now angry and tumultuous, then brooding and mournful.
Guest musicians joined Adler for two of his own duets. He and flautist Cain-Oscar Bergeron played the New York premiere, engaging and lyrical, of “Romance à la française for Flute and Piano.” Bergeron joins Adler—on “Introspections”—for another French-flavored work, “Six Little Variations on Noël Ancien” “Île de France,” written as the composer’s gift to his flute player husband Scott Oaks. Adler and tenor saxophonist Jordan P. Smith followed Adler and Bergeron’s “Romance” with “Reverie, Interrupted,” a tone poem for tenor saxophone and piano—part of the “James Adler & Friends” CD and also “Sculpting the Air: Modern Works for Wind Instruments,” on PARMA’s Navona Records label. In this work, dulcet then disturbing, the “reverie” is “interrupted” by Smith’s jarring, yet intriguing multiphonics, sounding multiple pitches on the saxophone simultaneously.
Adler completed the program with a virtuoso account, strong and stark, of the original piano version of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Kartinki s vïstavki,” or “Pictures at an Exhibition,” contrasting markedly with the highly-colored orchestration by Maurice Ravel, and skillfully limned, in succession, the composer’s heavy tread in the “Promenade” from one work of art to the next; the busy gnome of “Gnomus;” an imposing and mysterious “Vecchio Castello” (The Old Castle); a bustling “Tuileries” garden; a dramatic “Bydlo,” the Polish oxcart; a playful “Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells;” the sharply-differentiated “Two Polish Jews,” rich, pompous Samuel Goldenberg and poor beggar Schmuyle, of Sandomierz (Sandomir); the restless crush of the “Limoges Market Place;” a funereal “Catacombae” (“Sepulcrum Romanum),” “Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua” (With the Dead in a Dead Language); a fiery and fearsome “Hut on Fowl’s Legs,” home of wicked witch of Slavic legend Baba-Yaga; and a “Great Gate of Kiev” of full grandeur, evoking Russian liturgical strains and celebrating with lavish pomp and circumstance the ornate gate posited by artist Victor Hartmann, but never actually built.
Look for James Adler’s recordings at www.albanyrecords.com
, and www.navonarecords.com
. Visit www.corneliastreetcafe.com/downstairs
for listings of additional concerts at the café at 29 Cornelia Street, in the West Village.