Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
John Powell, a virtuoso pianist and composer born in Richmond 96 years ago, is little remembered today. But a few more recitals like the one given Sunday night in the National Gallery by pianist Wayne Smith might make his music as popular as it ever was (very popular indeed) for his centennial in 1982.
Smith received (and richly earned) a standing ovation for a program devoted entirely to music composed by Powell in his mid-20s: the Allegro moderato from the Sonata noble (1907), the entire Sonata Psychologique (1905) and some short, descriptive pieces (notably the suite: "In the South"), also from 1907.
The sonatas were already a little old-fashioned when he composed them - big splashy crowd-pleasers in a late-romantic style, demanding virtuoso technique (which may be why they disappeared from the scene after the composer stopped playing them). The shorter pieces, besides being pleasantly melodic, may have been a bit ahead of their time.
One of the them, "Negro Elegy," had what must be some of the earliest blue notes in classical music, and the "Pioneer Dance" (a set of variations on "Arkansas Traveler") foreshadowed in a way what Copland would be doing 30 years later.