George Walker Piano Sonatas – Exceptional

George Walker’s music, in my opinion, isn’t performed as often as its quality merits. Apparently, Steven Beck thought so, too. He’s not only the performer on this release, he’s also the producer. And he fills both roles quite nicely.

The album includes all five of Walker’s piano sonatas, spanning a half-century. The first sonata from 1953 is the most “modern”-sounding. Walker’s music mimics the chromatically angular motives of atonal composers.

But not totally. There’s a tonal base here, and Walker subtly keeps the listener aware of it. That base keeps the work anchored, and provides context for the ear.

Walker’s fifth sonata, finished in 2003 is different, yet not radically so. This sonata is quite compact, its motifs and gestures models of efficiency. Though less than five minutes in length, it has both substance and emotional impact.

Steven Beck performs with affinity and authority. The complex counterpoints of the first two sonatas are handled with aplomb. Even at its most avant-garde, Walker’s music has an underlying logic and form. Beck goes beyond the notes to bring the core of the music to the forefront.

I’ve often mentioned how well Bridge Records captures the piano in recordings. The recording quality here meets Bridge’s high standards. And that quality helps us hear the subtleties of Beck’s performances.

George Walker is one of the many African-American composers under-represented in classical music. I’ll be programming these works on my radio program, and I encourage others to do the same. And not because of the color of Walker’s skin, but because of the quality of his work.

George Walker: Five Piano Sonatas (1953-2003)
Steven Beck, piano
Bridge Records 9554

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