“Continuum: Modern Orchestral Works” = by STEPHEN L. MOSKO; TIM SULLIVAN; DANIEL CROZIER; MICHAEL G. CUNNINGHAM – various artists – Navona

by | Mar 21, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“Continuum: Modern Orchestral Works” = STEPHEN L. MOSKO: Transliminal Music; TIM SULLIVAN: Polychrome; DANIEL CROZIER: Fairy Tale; MICHAEL G. CUNNINGHAM: TransActions – Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra / Kirk Trevor (MOSKO) / Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra / Vit Micka (SULLIVAN) / Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Gerard Schwartz (CROZIER) / Russian Philharmonic Orchestra / Ovidiu Marinescu (CUNNINGHAM) – Navona Records NV5836 [Distrib. by Naxos], 59:25 ****:
This is a musical grab-bag for sure but one not without interest or merit. Four different orchestras, conductors, and venues, four different composers chosen almost (it would seem) at random, though there are some slight affinities among the last three composers listed, whom I’d place, for want of a better handle, into the neo-Romantic camp. That leaves Stephen L. Mosko (1947-2005), who is the name you’re most likely to know if you keep tabs on the modern music scene in America.
Mosko studied with Donald Martino, Mel Powell, and Morton Subotnick, which might give you an inkling as to his style, which is knotty, dissonant, typically post-serialist but informed by a quest for unusual instrumental combinations and textures. Transliminal Music (1992) starts off with angry declamations for the full orchestra but passes through quieter, more ruminative passages where individual instrumental choirs get their time in the limelight. There’s a lot of percussion and lots of percussive writing in this big piece.
At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Cunningham’s compact (just shy of eight minutes) TransActions (1980), a nervous piece with a number of skittery scalewise passages from which a solo violin emerges on occasion, perhaps giving voice to one of the unspecified transactions that take place in the course of the work. Whatever those transactions are, they don’t seem to bring peace or respite to the participants. There’s a sense of latter-day Expressionist angst to Cunningham’s piece.
More traditional sounding is Daniel Crozier’s Fairy Tale, which does have the lineaments of a tone poem even if the tale it tells is not spelled out. In sound it recalls musical tale tellers of Eastern Europe, such as Novak, Suk, and Janacek—there’s an exotic, quasi-Oriental feeling to its ripe, flowing, chromatic language. It’s the piece that’s easiest on the ear and the most immediately appealing, providing a sharp contrast to Mosko’s tough postmodernism.
Tim Sullivan might object, but I find his Polychrome (2008) for large orchestra reminiscent of Messiaen in its ecstatic bursts of orchestral color, with a big emphasis on tuned percussion, including piano and harp used percussively. Polychrome is an appropriate name for this highly colored prismatic composition, which may be my favorite on the disc.
Despite the different personnel involved, all the performances are committed and highly competent, even if the Moravian Philharmonic seems somewhat stressed at points. But then this is all pretty demanding stuff. The recordings are mostly quite decent as well, capturing this highly layered music with integrity. The Seattle recording provides the best sense of spaciousness and depth, while the Russian recording is a bit boxy and betrays at least one prominent and inelegant bit of editing. However, none of my reservations is serious enough to keep me from recommending this interesting if slightly wayward tour of musical America over the last thirty years.
— Lee Passarella

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