Not long ago, I heard a CD containing two piano works by
Roger Sessions (1896-1985) and one piece by
Donald Martino (1931-2005). This 1998 release by New
World Records has been described as “. . . rich with incident,
challenging (in the best sense of the term) and extremely
well performed.” It is a reissue of pieces from LPs released
during 1980 and 1984.

The Sessions pieces were the “Piano Sonata No. 2” from
1946, and his “Piano Sonata No. 3” from 1965. Both
compositions are rigorously structured in an extremely
chromatic idiom, but it might take more than one
hearing to discern the form. Clearly, this music demands
work from both the pianist and the listener. While not
avant-garde, these two complex works are worthy of
the undivided attention of the listener, and pianists
Randall Hodgkinson and Robert Helps provide
wonderful performances of “Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3,”

For more than 50 years, Roger Sessions was one of the
most prominent professors of composition in
the 20th Century, and Donald Martino (1931-2005) was
one of his students. His “Fantasies and Impromptus” from
1981 was a result of support from the Koussevitzky Music
Foundation. Although written in a predominantly
12-tone idiom, it was less “dense” than the two Session
pieces, and provided Hodgkinson with opportunities to
display a wide variety of tone colors and dynamics. At a
running time of more than 29 minutes, his well-recorded
performance was exemplary. The piece was my introduction
to this composer, and it was impressive.

As usual, New World Records provided informative liner
notes in the accompanying booklet, along with
appropriate bibliographies and discographies. This was
a fine package of well-played performances of
challenging and stimulating music.