Robert Palmer (1915–2010) produced more than ninety symphonic, choral, chamber and solo works throughout his career, earning a reputation in the mid-twentieth century as one of the country’s leading, most daring, and, at the same time, appealing modernists. Palmer’s unique musical language combined a deeply emotional impulse with complex counterpoint and rhythmic structures, drawing comparisons to Hindemith, Bartók, Lou Harrison, even Brahms. Aaron Copland famously included Palmer on his 1948 list of seven composers whom he considered “the best we have to offer among the new generation,” a list that included Lukas Foss, Leonard Bernstein, and John Cage.
This recording, the first devoted solely to the work of this enigmatic and still-unsung hero of American composition, comprises the bulk of his landmark piano works. (All but three are premiere recordings.) A long-overdue and important addition to the canon of recorded modern American music, it serves as a timely portrait of one of the most fascinating figures of a lost generation of midcentury American composers, introducing contemporary listeners to music that sounds as audacious, rousing and emotionally raw today as it did half-a-century ago. Several important pianists have recognized Palmer’s music for its haunting beauty and unique rhythmic tide, including John Kirkpatrick, William Kapell, Claudio Arrau, and Yvar Mikhashoff.
Palmer’s music, full of pathos and joy, illuminates for a whole new generation of musicians and listeners the possibilities of tonal writing. He is part of the chain of events that brought us to our contemporary environment of tonal freedom, and it’s time to make amends and include him in that timeline. This album is a start. --Adam Tendler