We'd be wrong if we told you this collection of nocturnes by pianist Michael Landrum is a set of lullabies designed to calm you to sleep. By their very nature, nocturnes are often moody, mysterious character pieces, which conjure an "exquisitely tired and four-in-the-morning" atmosphere (in conductor Constant Lambert's phrase).
Nocturnes are chiefly identified with Frédéric Chopin – who wrote 21 of them – but in fact, the form was invented by the Irish composer John Field and was subsequently re-imagined by Russians (Tchaikovsky, Balakierev, Rachmaninoff, Borodin), Frenchmen (Debussy, Poulenc, Bizet), Americans (Menotti, Copland, Dello Joio) and many others. Landrum gathers 32 nocturnes by these and other composers on a two-CD set.
A professor of music at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY, Landrum has made something of a specialty of the nocturne. Of the many approaches to the form featured here, a few are highly tumultuous. Take Tcherepnin’s Nocturne Op. 2 No. 1, whose middle section consists almost exclusively of crashing octaves and sixths or sevenths, and whose outer sections are dark and foreboding. Or consider Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor, with its challenging final section. Or Bizet’s Nocturne, which builds drama like an operatic potboiler.
Others here are gems of dreamy, fleeting emotions. Copland’s Nocturne has lots of subtle rhythmic twists and turns. Vaughan Williams’s Nocturne is a mere 17 bars of meandering sixteenth notes. Landrum plays two Chopin Nocturnes – the B-flat minor (Op. 9 No. 1) and C-sharp minor (Op. 27 No. 1) – with a tasteful rubato and restrained use of pedal, letting their Italianate melodies come to the fore. The set also features two women, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Clara Wieck Schumann, and some neglected composers, notably Cyril Scott and Alec Rowley among them. Together, these make for great late-night listening; just don't expect to be lulled to sleep.
Michael Landrum, piano
Available at Arkivmusic.com