Leave it to DELOS to keep surprising us with music off the beaten path! This time the surprise is titled PIANO MUSIC OF JOHN KNOWLES PAINE (DE 3551).

The music is by a lesser known – dare I say neglected? – American composer born at a time when America was trying to figure out just what that name meant, let alone what Classical music meant. Payne, however discouraging it might have been to get his contemporaries to tolerate let alone understand what he was up to, forged ahead, first studying music with his parents – owners of a music store in Portland, Maine. From then, Payne became a pupil of Hermann Kotzchmar, a German master who encouraged the Parents of the young prodigy to allow their son to further pursue his studies in Germany.

After returning to the States in 1861, Paine, aged 22, settled in Boston, where his European training served him well as he became a respected organist, a frequent performer of his own music in the salons of Beacon Hill, a guest conductor of the BSO, and eventually the creator of the music curriculum at Harvard University, where he taught for the rest of his life.

Much like the other American music pioneers – Edward MacDowell, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, George Chadwick and Horatio Parker – who came to be known along with him as The Boston Six, Paine was prolific, gifted, and hard working, writing uncomplicatedly accessible music that was then and continues now to be delightfully melodic. By 1906, the final year of his life, Paine must have heard the name of Schoenberg or even actually heard the music of his 1898 Transfigured Night, a composition that was breaking ground in the direction of atonality. In Paris Debussy had vastly redefined harmony with his Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. But Paine and his American pioneer friends soldiered on marching to the beat of their own personal drums tonally and melodically, as we can hear in this collection of miniatures dating back to the 1870’s.

This is by and large music written heart-on-sleeve, of a time where cares where about the honestly essential, music in which there is no agenda, no manifesto, no extra-musical baggage.

In this delightful collection pianist Christopher Atzinger plays with utmost elegance, brio when needed, gravitas when appropriate, and without a shred of condescension, there are romances, sketches, preludes, joyful ditties, even a fugue, and sad pièces d’occasion. Atzinger takes them on with bravura at his fingertips through all 65 minutes of this neatly engineered and packaged CD providing sheer listening joy.

Rafael de Acha