Oscar Peterson – Trail of Dreams

Oscar Peterson Oscar Peterson
Trail of Dreams
(Telarc – 2000)
by John Barrett

To celebrate the Millennium, sixty composers were asked by their government to write music about Canada. Among them was Oscar Peterson – his salute is a 12-part suite, decidedly on the gentle side. “Open Spaces” walks firm, on the bass of Niels Pedersen. Oscar starts a simple, happy theme; in rush the strings, conducted by Michel Legrand. Syrupy at first, hear them turn subtle: cellos stir the theme, violins a heartbeat later. Now it sounds like a classic, and the composer has a last word. On a nice “Morning in Newfoundland”, Ulf Wakenius shines brightly: he sounds like Montgomery, and the strings hum behind him. Niels tries the same thing on “Okanaga”; he plucks high over glassy surroundings. O.P. enters: calm, graceful … and T simple,a word rarely used to describe him. This music strolls: you hear the tunes more than the performer. In its laid-back way, that is flamboyant enough.

In structure and style, this reminds me of Oscar’s .Royal Wedding Suite, and the melodies are better this time. “P.E.I.” (Prince Edward Island) is a classic ballad, Wakenius twinkling like Joe Pass. The strings are intrusive; the tune is divine. Peterson waltzes on “Banff the Beautiful” (his tone is like a heartbeat); Niels ambles slowly on the “Lonesome Prairie”. “The French Fiddler” honors Willie Gerrard,whose bow-work thrilled Oscar as a child. After a rustic intro, the tune swings easy, helped by the piano man. The “Manitoba Minuet” is a formal tune gone astray: the theme begins with Oscar, repeated by Wakenius. Then O.P. digs in, hitting the blues through breezy cymbals. The longer he goes the better he gets; for dessert, a powerful bass and a classical finale.

“Anthem to a New Land” is formal and solemn, at least at the beginning. The strings ascend grandly, drums roll with pride, and Wakenius has some sly comments. With this the Trail comes to an end; if you want Peterson’s exuberance, you’ll find it elsewhere. But if you like your music reflective and want to hear Oscar’s composing skills, there is much to enjoy.