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GRUNDSTROM: “An Orchestral Journey” – Omega Studios Orch./Erik Ochnsner – Navona

Very pleasant music that connects and engages.

BRIAN WILBUR GRUNDSTROM: “An Orchestral Journey” – Contentment, Poem for Orchestra; Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra; Suite for Chamber Orchestra; American Reflections for Strings and Harp; Chenonceau – Omega Studios Orch./Erik Ochnsner – Navona NV6047 [Distr. by Naxos], 79:56, (8/12/16) ****:

Here is a very fine introductory collection of works by a composer new to me; and it is genuinely pleasant, direct and uncomplicated music with an appeal to all.

Brian Wilbur Grundstrom was trained as a pianist at Gettysburg College and studied composition with John David Earnest. He is largely self-taught as a composer; one with a gift for melody and a very direct and appealing style. Brian’s music, in this collection, has a very nice and mostly unfettered sound to it; sounding in places like wind ensemble repertoire and, at other times, very theatre ready; conducive to dance and film scores (which he has apparently done much of.) He is also apparently presently working on an opera.

One interesting fact about this album, though, is that the Omega Recording Studios is an educational and audio engineering facility and Grundstrom had assembled this group, led by the fine Erik Ochsner, specifically to record these works. This really isn’t a standing ensemble. It should be noted, too, that – actually – American Reflections for strings and harp is presented here in a recording by the Millennium Orchestra under Robert Ian Winstin. There is certainly enough appeal in these works to hope that Grundstrom will get some wider actual programming and not have to assemble his own ad hoc group to get his music played.

I enjoyed all of this music. The opening work, Contentment, Poem for Orchestra, is really quite beautiful and a bit sentimental with a feel of an unknown film score to it; rather Copland-esque. Jubilation! Dance for Orchestra is rather self-explanatory with a genuinely uplifting vibe and the scoring really sounds rather like band/wind ensemble music; such as some of the work by Ron Nelson or Jim Cohn.

The Suite for Chamber Orchestra is in three movements: “Before The Fall”, “Avalon” and “Celebration!” The work was nearly finished when the 9/11 attacks occurred so the initial “Before the Fall” is a reference to the collapse of the ‘twin towers,’ as well as to the last days of summer. “Avalon” refers to King Arthur’s island of healing; especially after a traumatic event and “Celebration” is, as the composer explains, is an expression of the “joy and celebration of life that we need to express after coming to terms with the sadness and disappointments that are also a part.” This movement, too, had a bit of a concert opener or wind ensemble quality to it. The net result is a very attractive and appealing half-hour work.

American Reflections for Strings and Harp is understandably infused with an Americana tinge that shifts in tone from a very country-like dance to a folkish melody and a bit of melancholy before closing with the dance feel again. Although there is no Copland reference and it doesn’t “sound” like Copland there is an Appalachian Spring structure and feel to this charming piece. The album closes with Chenonceau, the name of a French castle in the Loire Valley, and uses a 3 + 3 + 2 meter which the composer admits a fondness for (used also in Celebration.) The work nicely portrays a spring day in the French countryside, where the composer traveled to and found the source of his inspiration.

I had never heard of Brian Wilbur Grundstrom but I liked this music. Who knows if symphony orchestras will take an interest in these works and others (I would like to hear his opera whenever it come to fruition) but I do hope Grundstrom remains open to both the film score and school music market for there is much to admire here including both listenability and playability.

—Daniel Coombs

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