May/June 2018: New Music Reviews
(S5) Pacific Preludes by Christopher Norton, CD recorded by Iain Farrington
Christopher Norton is well known for his contemporary works in jazz, pop, Latin rhythms, and even musicals. His Pacific Preludes Collection is an interesting set of fourteen pieces based on folk melodies from countries bordering the Pacific Ocean: the United States, the Philippines, Mexico, Honduras, Chile, and New Zealand, just to name a few.
My favorite pieces in the book are the slow, expressive arrangements. "Aching" presents a lullaby from the Philippines in a beautiful, atmospheric setting. Mixed meters switching among 3/4, 4/4, and 5/8 enhance the improvisational feeling. Norton's harmonies focus on fourths and fifths, but sometimes take surprising chromatic turns. Well-placed fingerings help navigate some of the difficult passagework.
Another captivating slow movement is "Mo Li Hua," which translates to "Jasmine Flower." Norton sets this Chinese folk song with jazzy passagework that sounds improvised. Some complicated rhythms may be difficult for pianists to execute in an expressive manner, but there is plenty of room for rubato. Further, Farrington's recording will greatly assist students in creating a natural ease and expression with some tricky rhythms.
A few of the faster pieces focus more on dotted and syncopated rhythms than on clear melodies. In a few cases, these rhythms resemble the subdividing required in Gershwin's Preludes I and III. Because they seemed a bit repetitive, I did not gravitate toward some of the faster works, but I absolutely loved Norton's setting of "Waltzing Matilda." He begins with an expressive, slow introduction that unfolds into a fun ragtime. The effect is a toe-tapping version that is sure to please.
Each piece includes artistic markings, pedal indications, and ample fingering suggestions, along with a paragraph providing two or three facts about the origins of the tune and its use. And, in the back of the book, Norton includes a map of the featured countries.
Personally, I am always intrigued to hear how composers present folk tunes. Norton's style is truly his own; he does not intend to replicate the style of each country. He is, however, able to create an entire collection of works in contrasting styles, and students who gravitate toward jazz will be attracted to these pieces. Although students will definitely have their hands full with the complicated rhythms, they will enjoy these rhythms once they have mastered them. I recommend you add Pacific Preludes Collection to your contemporary (and diverse) library. (Boosey & Hawkes/Hal Leonard, $21.99)
Stephanie Bruning is Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD, where she teaches courses in piano, pedagogy, and accompanying. She frequently performs, adjudicates, and conducts masterclasses around the country and also specializes in Native American-influenced piano music