JAMES WINN: Variations; Masque; Three Nocturnes – MSR Classics

Winn the performer has been around awhile, but if you don’t know the composer you only have half the story.
JAMES WINN: Variations on a Theme of Bartok; Masque for Oboe, Cello, and Piano; Three Nocturnes for Piano Trio – Dmitri Atapine, cello/ Rong-Huey Liu, oboe/ Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, v./ James Winn, p. – MSR Classics MS 1588, 47:44 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

James Winn us a highly-regarded performer, teacher, composer, and new music specialist operating out of the University of Nevada in Reno. This outstanding disc showcases his chamber music work from the late 1970s to late 1980s, and for those lamenting the supposed fact that creative and even breathtaking new music is a thing of the past, this disc is likely to change your mind.
The Variations is for cello and piano, and is an absolute masterpiece to my way of thinking. Not only are the intricacies of development from a Bartokian theme exploited to the full, but also the profound technical abilities of the cello are maximized in a way that allows the soaring beauties of Winn’s melodies to achieve full effect. The Masque for Oboe, Cello, and Piano settles things down a bit with a tone that is much more reflective and meditative, yet playful. The Three Nocturnes for piano trio is rhapsodic, flowing, and almost tinged with a pastoral feeling the way Winn’s melodic inspiration flows above the underlying harmonic richness of the piano.

This recording is another example of how MSR continues to progress in their understanding of the mechanics of capturing chamber ensembles in realistic and provocatively rich sound. Do try Mr. Winn—he’s worth it.

—Steven Ritter

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