Piano Works by Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach
Laura Leon, piano
[G’Day Productions/Musical Tapestries]
I heard that once at Kleinhans Music Hall, Peter Schickele swung down on a rope from the balcony. I believe it. When I was a kid, every nerd was into P.D.Q. Bach. My brother gave me the book for Christmas and I can still see the pages in my head. (And if I ever forget, I still have the book.) The Bargain Counter Tenor, the Trumpet Involuntary, the Schleptet – it’s all kind of dated now, but still, so funny.
This colorful, cartoonish disc has the cute, neo-Baroque “Goldbrick” Variations and the Overture to “The Civilian Barber,” with bits of Rossini. Beyond that it has several sets of very brief pieces by Schickele. Like a lot of artists, Schickele is at his best when he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Luckily he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously very often, and most of these pieces are colored by wit as well as a certain poetry.
A lot of the music has a New Age sound, kind of Jim Brickman, only better. Eight settings of American hymns and hollers, including “Amazing Grace,” range from somber to bright and serene. Five “epitaphs,” each between one and two minutes long, pay witty tribute to five composers. Most of the pieces here are very short. If one grates on you, and a few of them will, there’s always the next – and more than a few of the pieces turn out to be surprise delights. “Little Suite For Susan” and “Small Serenade” have quick movements with titles like “Tango,” “Strug” and the jazzy “Riff.” “Second Sonatina” is only three minutes long. The charming first movement recalls Scarlatti. “Three Teeny Preludes,” with their ingenious simplicity, made me think of Carl Orff’s music for children.
The disc seems pretty true to Schickele’s philosophy, which I see reason to applaud. “I think that the boundaries among different kinds of music are not as rigid as they were,” he told me once when I interviewed him. “And that’s a terrific thing.”
– Mary Kunz Goldman