Classical Music Review: New Releases

Cecil Burleigh - Music for Violin and Piano.  Impromptu; Nature's Voices; Five Indian Sketches; Plantation Sketches; Characteristic Pieces; Six Fancies; Four Concert Pieces; Boyhood Recollections; Spanish Dance; Cradle Song. Zina Schiff, violin; Mary Barranger, piano (Cherina Carmel, piano on two pieces). Naxos 8.559061 (69'29).

This CD is a collection of salon miniatures as ephemeral as a box of postcards found in an antique shop. Cecil Burleigh (1885-1980) was a student of Ernest Bloch and Leopold Auer, but his music, at least what is presented here, harkens back to the era of Ethelbert Nevin and Edward MacDowell.  It is an example of the "American" style that Charles Ives so riotously rebelled against, an admixture of popular song, amateur ethnography, and Czech folk music, the latter courtesy of Anton Dvorak.  Burleigh had a gift for melody, which raises his music above the general run of this genre, and I suspect his name would be better known if he had been composing a few decades earlier.

There is genuine historical and aesthetic interest to Burleigh's compositions, but the real attraction of this disk is the playing of Zina Schiff.  Her exquisite intonation and spontaneity delight the ear.  She also meets these pieces on their own terms, which is to say that she imbues them with a restrained rubato, a near absence of vibrato, and just a hint of sentiment.  Burleigh could find no greater advocate.

Tony Gualtieri
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