The Americanist – another wonderful CD by Bright Shiny Things.

Elizabeth Newkirk makes her solo debut with The Americanist. The album features piano reductions of orchestral works by Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin, and William Grant Still.

Maurice Ravel’s short tone poem La valse, was written between February 1919 and 1920. Ravel dubbed this piece poème chorégraphique pour orchestre (choreographic poem for orchestra), conceiving it as a ballet but nowadays usually heard as a concert work. After hearing a two-piano reduction one part of which was performed by Ravel, the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev said it was a “masterpiece” but “not a ballet”. Ravel went ahead, eventually premiering it in Antwerp as a ballet.

Describing his scenario for La Valse in poetic terms: “…through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished… the clouds gradually scatter and…one sees an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd…” and dismissing others’ description of his work as a metaphor for the predicament of European civilization in the aftermath of the First World War, Ravel wrote about his composition: “ “In the course of La Valse, I did not envision a dance of death or a struggle between life and death.”

Ravel’s orchestration might perforce be missed when performed as a piano piece, but in the hands of the protean Elizabeth Newkirk in her Bright Shiny Things recording we get joie de vivre, elegance, and agile muscularity.

The CD features George Gershwin’s 1928 original An American in Paris gets an energetic delivery from Newkirk. The pianist mines everything she can from Gershwin’s fantastical musical landscape: the dissonances are there, the jazzy riffs, the blue notes, the unpredictable harmonic progression.

William Grant Still’s 1930 tone poem Africa – a delightful discovery for this listener – receives a superb performance from Elizabeth Newkirk.  Its three movements titled: “Land of Peace,” “Land of Romance,” “Land of Superstition.” contain music at times gently bucolic, at others profoundly melancholy, at yet other moments mysteriously dramatic.

With her debut album Elizabeth Newkirk makes an immense impression. The Americanist is another wonderful CD by Bright Shiny Things.

Rafael de Acha ©2022

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