Friday, 2 September 2016

Passing through - chamber music by Gernot Wolfgang

Gernot Wolfgang - Passing Through - Albany Records
Chamber music by Gernot Wolfgang; Judith Farmer, Jennifer Johnson, Nic Gerpe, Robert Thies, Joanne Pearce Martin, New Hollywood String Quartet, Eclipse Quartet; Albany Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 23 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Attractive jazz-streaked chamber music by USA-based Austrian composer

This disc of music by composer Gernot Wolfgang, Passing Through, on the Albany Records label has the subtitle 'groove-orientated chamber music, volume 3', which intrigues more than it informs, making the listener wonder what is coming.  The music consists of five works by Gernot Wolfgang, Flurry, String Theory, Passing Through, New England Travelogue, and Trilogy, written between 1999 and 2013, and the disc proves to be well worth exploring. 

 The performers on the disc are Judith Farmer (bassoon), Jennifer Johnson (oboe), Nic Gerpe (piano), Robert Thies (piano), Joanne Pearce Martin (piano), the New Hollywood String Quartet (Tereza Stanislav, Rafael Rishik, Robert Brophy and Andrew Shulman), and the Eclipse Quartet (Sarah Thornblade, Sara Parkins, Alma Lisa Fernandez and Maggie Parkins).

Gernot Wolfgang and bassoonist Judith Farmer - photo Ian Evenstar
Gernot Wolfgang and bassoonist Judith Farmer
photo Ian Evenstar
Gernot Wolfgang was born in Austria in 1957 and currently lives in the USA , in Los Angeles. He was a member of the Austrian jazz ensemble The QuARTet and lectured in Jazz Composition and Harmony at the University of Music in Graz. He says in the CD booklet notes that 'ever since I became interested in contemporary classical music, the prospect of integrating grooves from musical styles such as jazz, rock & roll, pop, world music and electronica into my concert works has intrigued me'. The results are in fact rather appealing and have little sense of cross-over, instead Wolfgang weaves his 'grooves' into textures which are very much typical of mid 20th century classical music with an admixture of later harmonies.

Flurry (2011) was originally written for flute and piano and is here performed by Judith Farmer and Nic Gerpe in a version for bassoon and piano. It starts off rather high energy with a jazz-feel but also a sense of a different voice, things relax in a complex but thoughtful episode before the perky final section.


String Theory (2013) is a four-movement work for string quartet, here played by the New Hollywood String Quartet. The first movement, Bela (for Bela Bartok), starts all energy and rhythm with an interesting feel for texture. The music reminded me of mid 20th century works for string orchestra, not surprising in a work named for Bela Bartok. There are lyrical moments too, and an interesting sense of development. Cartwheels is a vibrant pizzicato movement, full of energy. Northern Lights is lyrical in a rather expressionist way, with intense moments. The final movement, Nashville, is again vibrant, rhythmically very appealing and full of excitement.

Passing Through  (2011) is a three movement work for oboe and bassoon, played by Jennifer Johnson and Judith Farmer. The first movement, Bounce is characterful and perky, full of quirky humour, whilst the second movement Evening Song is slow spare and quite intense at times. The final movement, The flea combines rhythm and lyricism. All three movements, written in a highly effective manner for the two instruments, bringing out a real sense of character.

New England Travelogue (2008) is a four-movement piece for piano quintet, here played by the Eclipse Quartet and Joanne Pearce Martin. The opening movement, Vineyard Reggae, has an appealing rhythmic figure from piano and lower strings under violins circling round, before moving to a highly effective piano unison melody with pizzicato strings. Vermont Magic starts with slow bluesy chords, and then individual instrumental solos which develop into something rather powerful. Inman Square is all rhythmic strings and jazzy piano, whilst the last movement Mount Desert Island is slow with almost consonant harmony.

The final work on the disc Trilogy (1999) is for oboe, bassoon and piano, here played by Jennifer Johnson, Judith Farmer and Robert Thies. Whilst all the music on the disc has an influence of jazz to it somewhere, Trilogy seems to be the most directly jazz inspired. The first movement, Go Get It, is an up tempo movement featuring a lively exchange of ideas between the three instruments, it relaxes somewhat in the middle before picking up in the final section. The second movement, Another Life is a bluesy slow waltz, whilst the final movement Looking East  brings the disc to an attractively catchy close.

Gernot Wolfgang's writing combines a feel of mid 20th century tonality with jazz elements and streaks of modernism. His use of 'grooves' rather gives the music an attractive, toe-tapping element which I very much enjoyed. Certainly a composer to keep an eye open for.

All the music on the album is published by Doblinger Music Publishers.

Gernot Wolfgang (born 1957) - Flurry (2011)
Gernot Wolfgang - String Theory (2013)
Gernot Wolfgang - Passing Through (2011)
Gernot Wolfgang - New England Travelogue (2008)
Gernot Wolfgang - Trilogy (1999)
Judith Farmer (bassoon)
Jennifer Johnson (oboe)
Nic Gerpe (piano)
Robert Thies (piano)
Joanne Pearce Martin (piano)
New Hollywood String Quartet (Tereza Stanislav, Rafael Rishik, Robert Brophy and Andrew Shulman)
Eclipse Quartet (Sarah Thornblade, Sara Parkins, Alma Lisa Fernandez and Maggie Parkins)
Recorded 22, 26, 27 May 2015 at Alfred Newman Recital Hall, University of Southern California, Loss Angeles.
ALBANY RECORDS TROY1624 1CD [65.37]
Available from Amazon.co.uk.

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