Monday 12 September 2011

Cd Review

Sculpting Air – Navona Records, NV5852 
Modern works for Wind instruments

This disc from Navona Records is an interesting assemblage of contemporary chamber music, with the emphasis on wind instruments. But it is far more than a simple compilation of recordings as the CD also acts as a CD-Rom and when inserted into your computer provides extensive information about the pieces along with scores. In the case of the more adventurous contemporary pieces this is a fascinating aide to listening and in fact some of the scores are quite graphic and visually arresting.

The disc opens with Summer Music by Samuel Barber(1910 – 1981) played by the Solaris Quintet, recorded in 2009 at the Gault recital Hall, Wooster College. Barber’s substantial 12 minute work is written for a traditional ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. It was premiered in 1956 and subsequently shortened by Barber. It is rather rhapsodic and alternates moments of elegiac mood with more lively ones.

Reverie, Interrupted by James Adler (born 1950) is for tenor saxophone and piano, recorded in 2010 at Patrych Sound Studios in New York, with Jordan P. Smith (saxophone) and Adler himself on piano; Adler is a regular performer on the piano with a busy concert schedule. He studied piano performance and composition at the Curtis Institute. Adler’s style here offers lyricism with edge, giving us a lyrical saxophone line with a more rhythmical accompaniment. The work was written for Jordan P. Smith after Adler heard him perform. The score of the piece is included on the disc,

The Answer is No by Russ Lombardi (born 1945) is for flute solo (Michael Feingold) and an ensemble of 3 flutes and 2 alto flutes, recorded in 2008 at Futura Studios, Rosindal, MA. It is an austere, cool work, rather neo-classical in its dissonance. Lombardi has a jazz/rock background, having performed in various rock bands and jazz bands before studying at Berklee College and the New England Conservatory. In this piece he is dramatizing a dialogue between his teenage daughter (the solo flute) and his wife and himself (the flute sextet), I can only say that his daughter sounds a well-behaved sort of teenager. The score of the piece is included on the disc.

Chemical Suite by Jan Van der Roost (born 1956) is a suite of 4 short movements for trombone quartet, here recorded by the Daniel Speer Trombone Quartet in 1990 in Holland. Van der Roost is Belgian, he studied at the University of Leuven and the Royal Conservatoires of Ghent and Antwerp; his studies included trombone, conducting and composition and he now teaches at the University of Leuven. The Daniel Speer Trombone Quartet commissioned the work. The four movements bear the names of chemicals as titles, Kalium Cyanide, Glycerine, Chloroform and Ethanol. Kalium Cyanide is lively with short staccato bursts and aims to represent the chemical as sour and biting. Glycerine inevitably features low glissandi; quiet and uneasy at first it gradually builds. Chloroform is almost a popular song, rather music-hall in style, though its intent is to suggest the gradual narcotic effect of the chemical. Finally Ethanol is quick staccato and intense, reflecting perhaps the effects of alcohol.

The curiously named A Forum for Abandoned Euro Leaders by Barry Seroff (born 1978) is for flute duo, recorded at Futura Studios in 2010 by Zachary Jay and Brandy Blakely. Seroff studied at the Aaron Copland School of Music, but cut his teeth on improvised music at the legendary Knitting Factory. His music, though classical, includes elements of heavy rock and improvisation. He plays the flute in the progressive rock band, Edensong.

The name A Forum for Abandoned Euro Leaders is in fact an anagram. The piece features quite a lot of over-blowing, making the piece distinctive but rather difficult to listen to; these are offset by more traditional sometimes fugal elements. It was written for the Anti-Social Music flautist Andrea La Rose, as Seroff admired her extended techniques. I must confess that at nearly 7 minutes long, it rather out-stayed its welcome. The score of the piece is included on the disc; this is the first score to feature real extended techniques and includes much graphical work, giving the listener a chance to follow the processes which led from graphical score to realised piece.

Perihelion by Bryan Gillett (born 1972) is written for brass quintet and recorded here in 2006 in Romania by the Black Sea Quintet conducted by Gillett himself. Gillett is self taught and studied Medicine in Montreal; he currently resides in Brooklyn where he combines composing with being a doctor. The piece opens harshly, featuring trombone slides, but it develops something of a jazz feel, particularly in the accompanying elements. Like the previous track, this one felt too long at 7 minutes. The title refers to the closest point to the sun in a celestial body’s orbit. The work was premiered by the Black Sea Quintet in 2006 during the International Music Days Festival. The work’s very traditional looking score is included on the disc.

Genelalpaedie by Juan Sebastian Lach Lau (born 1970) features a title which requires transliteration (I have used my own attempt). Lach Lau is Mexican teaches composition at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Mexico; his studies have included periods in Mexico as well as Ghent and Holland. Written for a chamber ensemble of flute, harp, viola, violoncello and double bass, it is recorded by the Moravian Philharmonic Chamber Players in Olomouc in the Czech Republic in 2009.

The work is inspired by the first of Satie’s Gymnopedies, but Lach Lau filtered through experimetns with microtones and spectral music. The work opens with cries and whispers and disjointed notes, Lach Lau seems to be interested in textures rather than harmonic or melodic material. Though there was much of interest, I thought that perhaps Lach Lau was in danger of stretching his material too far. The notes that come on the CD-Rom include extensive information by Lach Lau allowing anyone interested to explore the work deeply. The score, included on the disc, includes quotes from Michael Foucault and features extensive annotations and makes fascinating reading.

With the final work on the disc, the Sonata for Trombone and Piano Opus1 by Richard Crosby (born 1957) we return to more traditional style. The opening movement is upbeat, lyric and melodic with a touch of bravura, the middle one is quietly lyric with a long breathed melody and the finale is a toccata with Spanish hints. Crosby studied at the University of Cincinnati and has been Professor of Music at Eastern Kentucky University since 1986. The work was commissioned by Ken Haddix, one of Crosby’s colleagues at EKU and was recorded by Haddix with Crosby at the piano in 2010 at EKU. The score is included on the CD Rom

This is a fascinating disc. There are some fine and creditable performances but what lifts it above the ordinary is the inclusion of extensive notes and the ability to see the scores of 6 of the pieces on the CD-Rom. If you are interested in contemporary music in its infinite variety, then this disc is for you.

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