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Permutations – Eliesha Nelson – viola; James Howsman – piano – Music by NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN, JOHN MCLAUGHLIN WILLIAMS, ROSS LEE FINNEY, JEFFREY MUMFORD, GEORGE WALKER (TrackList below) – Sono Luminus

“Permutations” –  Eliesha Nelson – viola; James Howsman – piano – Music by NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN, JOHN MCLAUGHLIN WILLIAMS, ROSS LEE FINNEY, JEFFREY MUMFORD, GEORGE WALKER (TrackList below) – Sono Luminus DSL-92186 multichannel Pure Audio Blu-ray + CD, 63:41 (2/24/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Permutations is a lovely high-resolution disc from the Sono Luminus label. This disc is comprised of five virtuosic viola pieces exploring many modes of American music. The five composers on this recording have all created technically challenging works. All of the composers are American with one exception; Russian Nikolai Kapustin, included because he incorporates some American jazz elements in his music.

Grammy-nominated violist Eliesha Nelson has a passion for performing and promoting music of neglected composers who have created music for the viola. She has been critically acclaimed in international publications for her outstanding interpretive abilities.

Those abilities are certainly on aural display here. I was particularly taken by the music of John McLaughlin Williams and his Two Pieces for Solo Viola. Williams, who may be better known for his conducting of American classical music on the Naxos label. All the compositions on the disc are worth a serious listen, and I think people who want to hear something new in chamber music will be attracted to this disc. Some of the works are somber, some are lively. Most have a hint of jazz.

Miss Nelson is accompanied at the piano by James Howsman. The pieces are well-played, and well-recorded. Solo Luminus, who always seems to get the most out of its recordings, has done well here. There are two discs provided in the set: A standard CD, and an audio-only Blu-ray disc with three different options; a stereo PCM track, DTS-MA 5.1 audio, and a DTS-MA 7.1 mix. In addition, the disc offers the ability, if you have the equipment, to download MP3, FLAC and WAV files to your computer. I did just that using an external Blu-ray player on my Mac. I think this is the really preferred way to buy high resolution audio. You have the physical disc, and the ability to have hi-res files for any player. I prefer this to buying SACD discs, whose treasures are locked behind odious copy protection. Kudos to Sono Luminus.

Sound-wise, the disc is good, but two solo instruments are not a sonic challenge, yet why not provide the best sound possible audio? The dynamic range is very good, just what you would expect from the high bit rate these works were captured with. This is an appealing disc release. I think the combination of format flexibility, fine playing, fresh contemporary music and good sound add up to a fine listening experience.

Track List:

Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 69 – Nikolai Kapustin
1. I. Allegro
2. II. Largo
3. III. Vivace

Two Pieces for Solo Viola – John McLaughlin Williams
4. I. Sarabande
5. II. Toccata

Second Sonata for Viola and Piano – Ross Lee Finney
6. I. Andante teneramente; Allegro animato
7. II. Permutations
8. III. Largo teneramente
9. IV. Allegro con moto; Misterioso
10. Wending – Jeffrey Mumford

Sonata for Viola and Piano – George Walker
11. I.
12. II.

—Mel Martin

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