A little night music, please. Actually, there's a lot of it to enjoy on this beautifully conceived and performed two-disc set dedicated to the art of the piano nocturne. The French word means "nocturnal" or "of the night." Though far from being lullabies, these single movement miniatures typically do begin and end softly and reflectively. But like an evening’s sleep interrupted by a bad dream or bout of insomnia, there is often much restlessness and turmoil within.
Originating in the early 19th century with Irish composer John Field and popularized by Frederic Chopin, nocturnes were written by important composers through the first few decades of the 20th century.
Thirty-one composers in all are represented by their nocturnes on this recording (Chopin deservedly rating two nocturnes). The nocturne essentially a product of the Romantic era, even those composed in the 20th century don’t stray very far from lyricism or traditional tonality.
Pianist and Temple University alum Michael Landrum has a definite affinity for these often delicate character pieces. His sensitive touch coaxing out the melodic line and his appropriate use of the sustain pedal underscore a keen awareness of each piece’s unique architecture and sound world.
Among the delights and surprises here: an extremely chromatic and nearly Impressionistic work from Georges Bizet; Impressionism meets Chopin in Alexander Scriabin's left-hand nocturne, which sounds as if written for two hands; unexpectedly high drama from Jean Sibelius; spiky dissonance and cascades of notes from Samuel Barber; and strikingly songful melodies topped with virtuosic flourishes in Clara Schumann’s piece. This is a delightfully sparkling collection of pianistic gems.