Thursday 18 August 2011

CD Review

Craig Madden MORRIS - Violin Concerto [34:27]
Craig Madden MORRIS - Piano Trio [8:15]
Craig Madden MORRIS - Dream Songs [9:24]
Craig Madden MORRIS - Cello Rhapsody [15:26]
Craig Madden MORRIS - Tropical Dances [11:40]
Christine Kwak (violin)
Nan-Cheng Chen (cell0)
Eduard Laurel (piano)
Martha Locker (piano)


Craig Madden Morris is a contemporary American composer, one of those toilers at music's coal-face whose well-constructed neo-romantic music does not always get the exposure it deserves. Morris is actually a child psychologist and an associate professor at Columbia University and a New York resident. This new disc from Ravello Records offers a selection of Morris's recent chamber music. Ravello are a New England based label who offer an eclectic selection of contemporary music.

This disc features music for voilin, piano and cello played by Christine Kwak, Nan-Cheng Chen and Eduard Laurel, with Martha Locker contributing piano solos. The programme opens with Morris's Violin Concerto played in his reduction for Violin and Piano. This is a substantial work, three movements of around 10 minutes each (some 35 minutes in total) originally written in 2002 and revised in 2010.

It is a big-hearted romantic work with a nicely rhapsodic solo part, beautifully played by Christine Kwak with sterling accompaniment from Eduard Laurel. Their confident performance gives a good idea of the work, but I'm not convinced it quite works as a violin sonata, there are just a few too many moments where you want more than the piano can give, especially when it comes to intertwining instrumental lines.

You can get some of idea of what we are missing by listening to the lovely interaction between the violin, piano and cello in the Piano Trio also on this disc.

The full version of the Violin Concerto includes a second cadenza for cello, so I can't help wishing that Morris had chosen to present the piece with one or two other instruments.

The Piano Trio, played by Kwak, Laurel and Nan-Cheng Chen) is for me the stand-out piece on the disc, showing Morris's give for rhapsodic writing and long lyrical interchanges between instruments. it is a single movement work lasting just over 8 minutes, written in 2008.

The final large scale piece on the disc is the Cello Rhapsody, played in the reduction for cello and piano, by Nan-Cheng Chen and Martha Locker. A lovely elegiac work (the central section is an elegy for his teacher Shirley Bloom). The rhapsody lasts over 15 minutes in one movement. Like the previous Violin Concerto, the work rather strains in the piano reduction.

In style, Morris is unashamedly Romantic, but with a thoughtfulness and care in construction. In composing style he hovers between John Corigliano and Samuel Barber. Though Morris's lyrical impulse never quite reaches the memorableness of Barber's tunes.

The disc is completed by two groups of smaller pieces, played by Martha Locker, Dream songs - a trio of lyric songs, and the Caribbean inspired Tropical Dances

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