“Elements Rising” = YVES RAMETTE: Introduction et Allegro; STEVEN BLOCK: Fire Tiger; RAIN WORTHINGTON: Night Stream; Rhythm Modes; PAULA DIEHL: Gambit; ALLAN BRINGS: Duo for Violin and Cello – var. performers/Moravian Philharmonic Orch. Ch. Players/Petr Vronsky – Navona

“Elements Rising” = YVES RAMETTE: Introduction et Allegro; STEVEN BLOCK: Fire Tiger; RAIN WORTHINGTON: Night Stream; Rhythm Modes; PAULA DIEHL: Gambit; ALLAN BRINGS: Duo for Violin and Cello – var. performers/Moravian Philharmonic Orch. Ch. Players/Petr Vronsky – Navona NV5990, 53:12 (3/10/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

Navona does a really good job putting together compilation albums of music by contemporary composers in a sort of “sampler” format and, typically, with some sort of “theme” at work. So, what we have here in “Elements Rising” is modern chamber works by composers who – according to the press materials and packaging – “re-imagine the building blocks of music, such as melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics and timbre, in innovative ways…”

Well, yes, that’s true to an extent. I sometimes find the thematic approach to compilations to be a bit forced. All of these works are interesting; some more than others, but – to me – there really isn’t any single work here that truly approaches the elements of music in brand new ways. Rather we have several fairly unknown composers with fairly different styles on display and this, unto itself, is just fine.

To cut right to the works that left the strongest impression with me, I really enjoyed the two pieces by Rain Worthington. I have heard other works of hers and greatly enjoyed them. The highly attractive violin duet, Night Stream, is a nice example of her straight forward approach to melody and the more contrapuntal Rhythm Modes for string quartet has a vaguely eastern European feel to it that I found attractive.

I also felt very positive about Gambit by Paul Diehl, whose works are quite a bit different than Worthington’s (for example.) Diehl wrote this chamber ensemble work in a system she calls “separation” which apparently relies on overlapping perfect fourths that gradually fall out of phase with each other. The effect here is a very moody work that sounds almost abstract but which has a nice ‘mysterious’ feel to it. In some ways it reminded me of some of the old ‘sixties’ compositions by Allan Blank.

I also rather enjoyed the Duo for Violin and Cello by Allen Brings, which also has a dark, atmospheric opening and works its way through to a lively, chromatic conclusion. In the music for strings department, I also found Fire Tiger (and what a great, if cryptic, title!) by Steven Block – very interesting to listen to.

I confess that the work by Yves Ramette, Introduction et Allegro, didn’t do much for me, although the very “impending doom” sound of the solo bassoon and dissonant winds at the very beginning was rather neat.

Something that I found interesting here is that most of these works – with the obvious exception of those by Rain Worthington – have a kind of dark, intense feel and do rely at least somewhat on dissonances and a dodecaphonic (if not serial) palate to the harmonies. That is interesting in that from the late ‘80s to about ten years ago, most composers were rather purposefully avoiding such things. A lot of the younger composers out there seem to be re-exploring close intervals and melodies built on all twelve tones so perhaps a new trend is developing.

As implied, Navona and producer Bob Lord always does a nice job finding fairly undiscovered composers and works and packaging them in interesting ways. This album contains some of the enhanced content – such as photos, biographies and scores – that Navona is known for and what a nice way to get these composers and their music more readily accessible.

—Daniel Coombs

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