top of page

Piano Works By Paul Chihara


Chihara: Complete Piano Works

Quynh Nguyen, piano.

Rieko Aizawa, piano. London Symphony Orchestra/Stephen Barlow Naxos 8.559894 Total Time:  65:43 Recording:   ****/****Performance: ****/****


Film music fans may be less familiar with the work of Paul Chihara (b. 1938).  His most prolific film work landed mostly in the 1980s (a personal favorite is 1983’s theme for The Survivors) and he also provided music for television, most notably China Beach (1988-1991).  This new release for Naxos features four works for piano from the past few years.

The primary work here is the Concert-Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra (2019-2021) written for Quynh Nguyen, who performs it here.  The piece works as a sort of theme and variations, more transformed along the lines of an idee fixe.  A gorgeous melodic idea, inspired by popular Vietnamese music, lends a semi-Romantic quality to this opening movement which then shifts into a jazzy moment.  A quite stunning, lyrical section then follows here with warm orchestral writing.  This is shattered though as we head into the more intense, dramatic scherzo.  The final movement revisits the thematic ideas heard earlier and moves through them as a sort of reflection of what has gone before leading to hope.  The style here is all quite light, and a bit thin at times.  There is interesting interaction between winds and piano throughout and the piece does move along quite well here.  The style is an interesting blend of Post-Romanticism, jazz, and Asian styles.  It is written in an accessible and engaging language.  The piano moments are really quite stunning and reminiscent of some of the composer’s Hollywood themes and style. 

The other three works are for piano alone.  First are a set of Bagatelles (2010, rev. 2011).  Commissioned by Jerome Lowenthal, the fourteen movements, arranged in two groups of 7, are imagined as brief musical haikus.  They blend a Japanese aesthetic into the more American influences here and occasionally incorporate folk songs.  Other references also abound here.  These include a song from the composer’s score to Death Race 2000 (1976; in no. 4); an homage to William Bolcolm (no. 5); and Prokofiev (no. 12), with nods to Bach, Les Six, Debussy, and jazz.  They illustrate some of the wit and experimental approaches here that provide their share of technical challenges along the way.  Chihara’s quotation music approach is on full display in the Four Reveries on Beethoven (2021) which he created for his pianist friends.  Listeners will be likely delighted by the overt references blended in with Chihara’s use of jazz idioms and wit. 

The final work here is for piano four hands.  Ami (2008) was written for pianists Pascal Roge and Ami Hakuno as a sort of wedding gift.  Classical listeners may be familiar with Roge as a noted performer of French repertoire.  The early 20th-Century musical aesthetics of Debussy and Faure are present here along with jazz influences referencing the work of Gershwin and Ellington.  There is also a popular Japanese children’s song (“Aka Tombo”) referenced here which itself is based on a theme by Robert Schumann.

Chihara’s concert pieces show a great flair for pianistic technique and style.  His romantic thematic sensibilities often provide stark contrast to the more pointillistic writing that provides forward motion in the music.  The music thus provides a great blend of earlier styles and influences into a sort of collage.  Nguyen provides inspired performances here that show off her immense pianism.  One can hear this in some of the more challenging music in the bagatelle set.  Her lyrical playing is also on display throughout and really elevated the opening orchestral piece.  The release is a quite accessible with melodic ideas often reminding the listener of Chihara’s own ability to craft moving themes. 


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page