Four-Hand Fennimore

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 5

Released to celebrate the 60-year professional and personal partnership between composer/pianist Joseph Fennimore and pianist Gordon Hibberd, this disc contains recordings that stem from archival live and home rehearsal cassette tapes, meaning that the sound quality is not up to studio standards. You only learn that after opening the CD shrink wrapping and reading the booklet notes. The back cover should have included a sonic caveat.

However, the main focus of this release is Fennimore’s attractive, accessible, idiomatic, and inventive piano music. His style is conservative on the surface, yet within the first few seconds of a piece Fennimore’s rich harmonic palette and natural melodic gifts seduce you, and you’re hooked.

What does the music sound like? Poulenc might come to mind, or Ned Rorem, or Paul Bowles. Maybe Fauré reincarnated and updated. The First sonata’s middle movement is one of several examples where Fennimore in the 1960s foreshadows Stephen Sondheim in the 1980s. Almost all of the works on this disc are short and succinct. There’s really no difference between Fennimore’s Sonatas or Sonatinas, since they consist of extremely brief movements that tend to be lean and pointed. By contrast, the 16 waltzes for piano duet contain fuller-bodied sonorities, plus more textural variety and contrapuntal interplay. So is the waltz entitled The Lady is NOT A Tramp, which is a gentle ribbing of semi-cocktail keyboard stylings.

The collection’s only large-scale work is a 10-minute Passacalle that alludes to baroque conventions, yet the music’s frequent rhythmic displacements and sudden, terse coda are pure Fennimore. Despite the aforementioned sonic issues, the lively precision and character of Fennimore’s highly distinctive pianism consistently comes across, and that also goes for the congenial give and take that Fennimore and Hibberd convey in the waltzes. Worth hearing.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Music for Four Hands
Reference Recording: None for this collection

  • FENNIMORE, JOSEPH:
    Eight Waltzes Book I, Eight Waltzes Book II; First Sonata (1964); Second Sonata (1965); First Sonatina (1965); Third Sonatina (1973); Passacalle (1994); The Lady is NOT A Tramp (2000)
  • Joseph Fennimore (piano); Gordon Hibberd & Joseph Fennimore (piano duet)

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