Review of “Marimba When” by Leigh Howard Stevens
A Review by Thomas A. Nazziola
“Marimba When”………….. Leigh Howard Stevens
A Review by Thomas A. Nazziola, borrowed with permission from his blog, Composer Notes– 6/11/14
Every serious student of marimba is familiar with the pioneering 4-mallet technique of Leigh Howard Stevens. However, there’s a whole other side to this craft, which has to do with the translation of classical repertoire for the instrument. Some of the greatest composers of the 19th century (and beyond) have been represented with absolute artistry in a CD entitled “Marimba When” – a collection of piano music by Debussy, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian as performed by Mr. Stevens.
The opening track, “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” from Debussy’s “Children’s Corner” is a personal favorite of mine. The tempo was carefully chosen (a bit slower than normally performed on piano) to allow the notes to speak fully (considering the natural decay of the instrument). The dynamics on “The Snow is Dancing” (also Debussy) demonstrate extreme sensitivity and control along with the backdrop arpeggio against the chordal melody.
Another beautiful melody comes from Schumann’s “Untitled No.30” (from “Album for the Young,” Op.68). The tempo is much slower than what is commonly heard on piano but (here again) it works perfectly for marimba, drawing attention to the slowly shifting harmony through extended rolls. The chordal accompaniment on “Remembrance” (also “Album for the Young,” Op.68) resonates for the perfect duration before changing chords. As is evident here, a player must listen to the natural characteristics of the marimba to determine performance choices that may not apply to the original instrument (i.e. piano).
Shifting gears slightly, Khachaturian’s “Ivan Can’t Go Out today” (from “The Adventures of Ivan”) is driven by a triplet flow – impeccably executed! A final highlight includes “Ivan Goes to a Party” with a performance that really conveys the quality and depth of the instrument – especially the low notes that introduce the piece.
I highly recommend owning this CD if you’re a serious student of 4-mallet marimba. “Marimba When” demonstrates how a true understanding of classical repertoire can lead to the most musical and idiomatic translation for the instrument.