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Extrovert Optimism

Piano music by
Benjamin Lees -
recommended by
PATRIC STANDFORD

'... a pleasant surprise ...'

Benjamin Lees Piano Music, 1947-2005. Mirian Conti, piano. © 2008 Toccata Classics

Benjamin Lees is eighty five and still as prolific as ever, having recently produced -- among several interesting chamber instrumental works -- his 3rd Piano Concerto (2006), a 6th String Quartet (2005) and in 2004 his 5th Symphony of 1986 was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His distinctive lifetime achievement makes him undoubtedly one of the major senior living artists of America.

It comes as a pleasant surprise to those of us who are not familiar with his piano music that the Argentinian pianist Mirian Conti has produced a recital that so well represents his relatively small solo piano output. Not that everything is here by any means -- that would take at least another CD which I trust is on its way (there are apparently four sonatas!), but it does provide a very satisfying retrospective.

The recital begins with the earliest of his piano pieces, a Toccata dating from 1947, a piece which he admits was a virtuosic challenge inspired, at the age of 23, by his Russian family origins and not surprisingly a dominant personality like Prokofiev at the time.

Listen -- Lees: Toccata
(track 1, 0:01-0:43) © 2008 Toccata Classics

Six Ornamental Etudes were written in 1957, experimenting with the concept of showpiece concert studies

Listen -- Lees: Six Ornamental Etudes -- No 6
(track 7, 1:23-1:56) © 2008 Toccata Classics

and later, Three Preludes that have a bold stature laced with a fluid and exciting pianism.

Listen -- Lees: Three Preludes -- No 3
(track 10, 1:32-2:14) © 2008 Toccata Classics

Three pieces each entitled Odyssey are works of considerable weight and substance. The first was written for John Ogdon who gave its first performance in 1971. The second of these dramatic landscapes was written in 1986, and it was after hearing Mirian Conti play both in 1992 that he decided eventually to write a third in 2005 especially for her. Odyssey No 3 has a contemplative atmosphere which breaks out into extrovert optimism, and this most recent of all Lees' piano pieces is played with outstanding commitment, understanding and skill -- as is the whole worthy recital.

Listen -- Lees: Odyssey No 3
(track 14, 7:55-9:20) © 2008 Toccata Classics

Copyright © 13 June 2009 Patric Standford,
Wakefield UK

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CD INFORMATION: LEES PIANO MUSIC 1947-2005

BENJAMIN LEES

TOCCATA CLASSICS

TOCCATA

JOHN OGDON

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

ARGENTINA

RUSSIA

CHINA

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