Classical CD Reviews

“The Music of Sparky Davis” = SPARKY DAVIS: …and One Last Waltz; Symphony in Bb; Fantasy Sonata – Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Vit Micka/ Karolina Rojahn, piano – Navona

An interesting new voice with a bit of jazz influence.

Published on March 13, 2013

“The Music of Sparky Davis” = SPARKY DAVIS: …and One Last Waltz; Symphony in Bb; Fantasy Sonata – Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Vit Micka/ Karolina Rojahn, piano – Navona Records NV5897 (Distr. by Naxos), 66:36 ***:

The package notes, as well as other reviews I have seen on this release, make quite a “to do” about Sparky Davis being a composer who rejects atonalism and seeks to create music that “(adds) to the functional use of long-established note combinations.”  Actually, this is not really a new or break-through notion. What might go down as an American eclecticism or “neo-Romanticism” is rather the way for a number of younger American composers. So, if a composer is to become known and have a distinctive voice, there has to be a bit more.

In Davis’s case, writing music that has a bit of a jazzy tone and perhaps some film score “sweep” to it seems to define his output. The music is interesting, to be sure. The central work here is Davis’s Symphony in Bb and the four movements provide the Symphony a fairly typical format but with some decidedly atypical forms. The opening Maestoso is “majestic” indeed with a lot of what I felt is the broad attractive sound we associate with movie music; in a grand way. The Capriccio is a light, attractive movement and the ensuing Burlesca has a somewhat carefree and vigorous feel. I felt that the closing Adagio di Molto Misterioso is the real payoff to this work, though. This movement is characterized by some lovely long-line string melodies and a truly “mysterious” feel that ebbs in and out of some ominous territory before the work ends peacefully and in a quite satisfying manner. The Moravian Philharmonic and conductor Vit Micka, Navona regulars, perform quite well and with conviction.

The other two works in this collection are nice, but just did not leave as strong an impression. The opening …and One Last Waltz is a fairly extended treatment of standard waltz structure but the feel is a bit melancholic, maybe that “one last” notion. It is an attractive work that also contains some nice string solos and its mood shifts casually in and out of that pensive tone (created in part by some intriguing “dance hall” trombone parts.)

The solo piano work, Fantasy Sonata, is an impressive enough work that sounds difficult to play and channels Scriabin in places and Rachmaninov in others. Soloist Karolina Rojahn does a very fine job throughout but especially in the sparse feel created by the opening of the Epilogue.

This is nice music throughout. I am not sure of the overall place in contemporary music where Mr. Davis’s music resides. I do think the work that makes the strongest case for his skills is the Symphony; a very interesting and approachable work that makes me want to hear more of his larger scale output.

Navona is renowned, justifiably, for introducing listeners to lesser known (as one site declares, “virtually unknown”) composers and their interactive packaging that gives complete scores is still a marketing coup. I do have one small complaint. I like knowing something about composers. The digital booklet embedded to this disc does not give a bio about Sparky Davis, just the info about “modern…not modernistic.”  After combing the internet, I could not find a website for Davis. I found references suggesting he has a background in popular music arranging and so forth but that could be the wrong guy. Whether a composer is a traditionally-trained university-based composer or a freelance musician makes no difference to the listener. I just like knowing. The listening fosters curiosity. [You’d think with today’s Internet world, the label would at least ensure there is a page about the composer somewhere there, just as labels are beginning to eliminate lyrics and librettos with the discs and sending you to their website instead…Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs

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