Exiles' Café

( Steinway & Sons 30016, February 2013)

This music comes from the Exiles' Cafe, a place both real and metaphorical
where the travelers of the world gather to find a home away from home, a place where journeys converge and histories collide. The miniatures collected here tell stories of the transformative passage from what is left behind to what is discovered ahead. They speak to vanished worlds and altered lives, to the fragility of destiny and the possibilities of new beginnings: postcards from the Exiles' Cafe.



"These beautiful, haunting, and sometimes sorrowful sonic postcards reveal Lara Downes’ honed vitality as a pianist, but also showcase her ability to unite her pianistic sensitivity with evocative, thought-provoking ideas. The inspired reworkings are filled with Downes’ instrumental brilliance.... Overall, Exiles’ Café is a set of enthralling solo piano performances which explores the conditions and inspirations that brought the music to life for those exiled composers prevented from returning to their homelands. Lara Downes has created the perfect hyperlink from composer to performer to listener."

Paula Edelstein: Examiner.com

"A general feeling of Weltschmerz dominates this recital of music by exiles—in Rachmaninoff, Korngold, and Bartók’s cases, those soon to be exiled—from their homelands, either through political circumstance or by their own volition. To an extent, it mirrors Lara Downes’s life: Born in San Francisco “of Caribbean and Russian heritage,” she studied with two holocaust survivors and then as a girl toured Europe performing with her sisters in what she characterizes as “a gypsy-like existence.”.... Particularly striking are Paul Bowles’s four Preludes: yearning yet self-observing, almost self-mocking music. On the disc’s longest track, Downes delivers a ravishing reading of the 13-year-old Korngold’s Moderato (from Sonata #2), fully capturing its passion without ever falling into bathos. "
James H. North: Fanfare

"The charm of Downes' program lies in how she brings together music by such a variety of composers yet finds a very specific elegiac yet somehow adventurous mood in all of it....It's not often that you would find Rachmaninov, Paul Bowles, Bohuslav Martinu, and William Grant Still on the same program, but here they happily coexist. Yet they don't sound the same, which is what gives this collection of 21 pieces on a single emotion its variety. Downes keeps very tight control over the material, rarely letting the music rise above moderate volume or the emotional temperature above melancholy. The result is that this exiles' café really comes alive with the sounds of 100 years ago, and the sadness of upheaval. "
James Manheim: All Music Guide

"The idea behind Steinway concert artist Lara Downes’s album Exiles’ Cafe concerns the many celebrated composers who have, for one reason or another, found refuge away from their homelands, writing some of their best work as expatriates--in exile, so to speak. The composers listed above fit into such a category, some of them finding shelter in Paris, in England, in America, when they found it difficult to return to their native countries. Perhaps living in a new land helped their creative spirit, who knows. What Ms. Downes has done is record a series of brief piano works from thirteen such displaced emigrates, all of the pieces benefiting from her gentle yet virtuosic playing style and from Steinway’s excellent sound... And so it goes, each composition a little gem, exquisitely, lovingly played, each conveying a varying sense of longing, perhaps the composers’ lingering regrets about days gone by."
John J. Puccio: Classical Candor