Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Moto Perpetuo - Cd review

Moto Perpetuo - Navona Records, NV 5901
The Romanian cellist Ovidiu Marinescu recorded the Bach Cello Suites for Navona Records in 2011 to critical acclaim. On this disc he performs a variety of works for solo cello, either alone or in chamber groups, by six contemporary composers, five American and one British, with a range of ages and styles; Andrew March, Greg Bartholomew, Alan Beeler, Bill Sherrill, Arthur Gottschalk and Nicholas Anthony Ascioti. All are united in their lyrically expressive view of the cello and the possibilities it offers, all write in essentially tonal style but bring a variety of attitudes and interests, including non-standard scales and at least one tone-row. 

Andrew March's Three pieces for Solo Cello was written in direct response to hearing Marinescu playing the Bach Cello Suites. Andrew March (born 1973) was born in the UK and studied at the Royal College of Music in London. The first movement, The Night is for Stillness, takes its title from the New Zealand Prayer Book. As you might expect from the title, it is a slow, melancholy piece with a long singing line interrupted by moments of drama. The melodic material and the writing for the cello rather reminded me of the Walton Cello Concerto. The second movement is a Moto perpetuo, short but taxing with the forward movement interrupted by pauses. The third, To Reflect in a Quiet Spot, is the longest. It takes its title from a line in a medieval Latin text, Confessio by the Archpoet, and includes the idea of the composer sitting quietly in a secluded waiting for musical ideas. A slow haunting piece similar in tone to the first movement, again we have a fine singing line, with lovely expressive playing from Marinescu. He plays all three movements with rich and deeply vibrant tones, singing the lovely lines which March gives him.


Beneath the Apple Tree by Greg Bartholomew (born 1957) was commissioned as a duet for alto recorder and viola da gamba, to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary. It includes a quotation from Grieg's Wedding day in Trolhaugen, which refers back to the commissioners' wedding. The piece was premiered in 2008, a version for flute and guitar was premiered in 2011 and this version for flute and cello premiered in 2012. A gentle and rather folky melodic piece, essentially a  dialogue for the two instruments, each takes a moment in the spotlight sometimes unaccompanied and sometimes with the other instrument taking an accompanying role.

Alan Beeler taught at Wisconsin State University, Washington University and Eastern Kentucky University until he retired in 2007. His Dance Suite for Violin and Cello was premiered in 2008. Beeler's note in the programme booklet includes full details of the fascinating construction of these pieces, with quite an interest in numerology, but the listener does not have to worry. The first dance, Waltz-Duo is quite strenuous and expressionist in style, not very waltz-like but striking. The second, Polka in Thirds, makes reference to the Beer Barrel Polka.  It is a lively movement, again quite strenuous. The third movement, March in Fourths is definitely a march with a hop and a kick. The fourth, Gigue-Tarantella in Whole Steps is, as might be expected, very lively. Despite their titles, the movements are not light pieces and each has its taxing moments. Beeler's writing is tonal but has strong elements of expressionism, pushing the writing to the limits.

Beeler's One Good Turn Deserves Another is a four-movement work for solo cello. Again, the composer's note includes full details of the way he has used the octatonic (diminished) scale in each of the movements. In the Octatonic scale, the notes ascend in alternating tones and semitones, thus creating an entirely symmetrical scale; this scale, often found in eastern European music, fascinates Beeler. The first two movements share the same dark tones, combined with a fine singing line. The third movement is more emphatic, more dramatic with the final one starting grazioso but developing rather darker tones. The use of the octatonic scale gives the work a fascinating atmosphere.

The final Beeler piece on the disc, Variations on Re-Do-Mi for solo cello, is the second of a set of variations  each for a different instrument and based in a tone row. The use of a tone row gives the work a serial feel, apparently simple but you are aware of complexities underneath.

Bill Sherrill (born 1939) retired early in order to study music and has been composing ever since. Bill Sherrill's Divertimento for Strings was originally written for an unaccompanied choir, setting the Latin text O Quanta Qualia. Sherrill subsequently transcribed it for strings, adding a double bass part. It is a Rondo, and the different sections use different scales (including our old friend the octatonic and a pentatonic scale). Perhaps because of its earlier choral incarnation, but the work has a rather appealing, open sound (with hints of Copland). The octatonic scale in the main section of the rondo gives it a distinctive feel, and I found the whole work rather striking. I would certainly be interested in hearing the original motet.

Arthur Gottschalk (born 1952) is Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. His Sonata for Cello and Piano: In memoriam was written for the Fischer Duo as part of their 35th anniversary celebrations. Each of the three movements is inscribed with the initials of dedicatees for whom the movement in memoriam. The first movement opens with a striking tremolando figure in both instruments, creating a very nervous and edgy atmosphere. This leads to a strenuous moto perpetuo which keeps getting interrupted. The slow lyrical second movement has a singing cello part (with the cello played muted) accompanied by a gentle filgree in the piano. Moments of drama occur, but the initial material keeps returning though by the end of the movement the drama is quite intense. The third movement is intense and very dramatic, with insistently rhythmic passages in the piano accompanying virtuoso passages in the cello. This is not an easy movement, either for listener or player. The cello part is highly virtuosic, and gets more so as the movement progresses with Marinescu giving a terrific performance.

Nicholas Anthony Acsiotti (born 1974) studied at the College of St. Rose, Albany, and Bennington College, Vermont. His Adirondack Meditation is richly polyphonic with a strong folk feel to the melodic material, a quietly satisfying piece..

The disc has diverse extras if you put it in your computer; this gives you access to extended programme notes, the scores for many of the pieces and a video of Marinescu playing.

This is a fascinating disc, with a diverse group of pieces all of whom use the cello in different ways. Whilst the  composers share a commonality in being basically tonal, they take different routes to the cello's expressiveness, though all are serious in intent. Marinescu's performances are on a high standard throughout, whether it be giving us a lovely singing line, rich dark tones or brilliant virtuoso passages. Highly recommended.

Moto Perpetuo
Andrew March (born 1973) - Three pieces for solo cello [18.54]
Greg Bartholomew (born 1957) - Beneath the Apple Tree [3.25] (6)
Alan Beeler - Dance Suite for Violin and Cello [4.07] (1)
Alan Beeler - One Good Turn Deserves Another [5.50]
Alan Beeler - Variations on Re-Do-Mi[3.33]
Bill Sherrill (born 1939) - Divertimento for Strings [5.24] (1,2,3,4)
Arthur Gottschalk (born 1952) - Sonata for Cello and Piano: In memoriam [21.25] (5)
Nicholas Anthony Ascioti (born 1974) - Adirondack Meditation [6.00] (1, 5)
Avidiu Marinescu (cello)
Sylvia Davis Abramjian (violin) (1)
Dana Weiderhold (violin) (2)
Scott Wagner (cello) (3)
Charles J Munch (double bass) (4)
Janet Ahlquist (piano) (5)
Kim Trolier (flute) (6)
Recorded 3 May, 24 & 26 July, 20-21 August 2013, Rosa Recital Hall, Philadelphia
NAVONA Records NV5901 1CD [69.00]

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