“Claviatures: Modern Chamber Works” = AYLAYA ASHEROV-KALUS: Three Rivers; WILLIAM A. FLETCHER: Three Lines; JAMES SCULLY: Bouncing About; JIM TRIBBLE: At Odds; RON NAGORCKA: Out of the Blue; Prelude in Memoriam; Zygodactyl Dance; INGRID STÖZEL: The Road is All – Doug Graham, clarinet/ Neil Casey, viola/ Winifred Goodwin, piano/ Lisa Hennessy, flute/ Karolina Rojahn, piano/ Ondrej Lebr, violin/ Lucas Klansky, piano/ Anne-Marie Brown, violin/ Lawrence Figg, cello/ Robert Pherigo, piano – Navona Records enhanced CD NVS864, 58:45 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

I guess “modern” means different things to different people. The term now is usually pejorative; “modern” means harsh, ugly, and difficult. It needn’t, but this is the legacy of so much of the out-of-control avant-garde. Perhaps “contemporary” would be a better word. At any rate, Navona provides no booklet at all, meaning no information about any of the music aside from the instrumentation, and nothing about the composers. Instead we have to load the enhanced CD to get the “extra content”.  So I shall pass along some of what is there.

Aylaya Asherov-Kalus is an Israeli-born composer who got her Bachelor of Music Summa cum laude at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and her Master of Music in Film Scoring from the North Carolina School of the Arts. She has written a number of documentaries and other television scores. Three Rivers for clarinet, viola, and piano is a nicely constructed piece that is really easy to listen to, and not that challenging. But the piece has a nice effect, simple, not that difficult to play, but pleasant.

William A. Fletcher conducts choir and teaches music theory at the St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. He has an impressive list of premieres to his credit, as well as a number of commissions. Three Lines fall much in the same mold as the Asherov-Kalus pieces—more impressionistic perhaps, certainly not difficult for either the flute or piano, and much of meanders without much sense of direction, though again, the take-away from all of it is a very pleasant if nondescript feeling.

James Scully is a composer, performer, and educator who teaches at CSU Bakersfield in the realms of jazz studies, music theory, composition, and music technology. His music has been performed fairly widely across the United States. Bouncing About is a violin and piano piece that does just that; lots of changing meters and a jagged and not uninteresting melodic line that specializes in wide leaps and simple counterpoint. Again, I enjoyed this a lot, but there is not a lot of depth in this music.

Jim Tribble writes, plays, and teaches music in Scotland, and performs with various orchestras. At Odds is a very simple and diatonic piece for violin and piano that could almost pass as a beginning student composition in any number of colleges and universities. There is not much to this at all, and its repetitive nature doesn’t sit well after a while.

Ron Nagorcka composes in his hand-built solar-powered studio in remote Tasmania. He studied composition, pipe organ, and harpsichord at the University of Melbourne and at the University of California at San Diego. He has a wide local following and works with electronics also. His three solo piano pieces, Out of the Blue, Prelude in Memoriam, and Zygodactyl Dance, reflect an intense interest in mixed meter and deceptive beats, most noticeable in the wildly and beautifully constructed Zygodactyl Dance, though each of these three works compete for best on the disc, and I would have enjoyed a whole album of Nagorcka’s music.

Finally, Ingrid Stölzel is a native of Germany and has lived in the United States since 1991. Her doctorate is from the University of Missouri and she has received numerous prizes and commissions for her compositions, played quite widely. The Road is All demonstrates that she is a throwback composer, one who enjoys writing in the great French Romantic style like a composer such as Chausson, which this music seems derivative of. I don’t mind this in the least—this gorgeous, rhapsodic piece may be anachronistic, but is still welcome as a testament to beauty in our jaded age.

Despite the varying recording locales Navona has managed to corral sound that is remarkably similar in every track—close, airy, and clean. I wish I could give this a higher recommendation, but the first four pieces here, despite some of their attractions, are simply outclassed by Nagorcka and Stölzel, who really should have shared this disc all to themselves. Navona has provided rich content, with biographies of the composer on the CD and available through a computer (as a CD-ROM), complete scores to each work, and a few more extras. But there is simply not enough real quality here for repeated listening aside from those two I mentioned.

—Steven Ritter