CRAIG MADDEN MORRIS: “Dreams” = Violin Concerto; Piano Trio; Dream Songs; Cello Rhapsody; Tropical Dances – Ravello

by | Aug 25, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

CRAIG MADDEN MORRIS: “Dreams” = Violin Concerto (piano reduction); Piano Trio; Dream Songs for piano; Cello Rhapsody (piano reduction); Tropical Dances for piano– Christine Kwak, violin/Eduard Laurel, piano/Nan-Cheng Chen, cello /Martha Locker, piano – Ravello Records RR7813, 79:32 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
Craig Madden Morris is a New York based composer whose music lies squarely in the neo-Romantic mold. A violinist originally, Morris’ music has been performed by an impressive variety of ensembles including the Bronx Symphony Orchestra, the CETA Orchestra, the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia and the Nyack College Chorale. Interestingly, Dr. Morris is also a child psychiatrist and assistant professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians. He also writes a fair amount of sacred music for Sabbath services and it seems clear, from just this recording, that his music certainly tends on the melodic, diatonic, largely restful side of things. Therefore, it is hard to imagine anyone not liking these pieces.
For example, the two solo piano works in this collection make a very favorable first impression. “Dream Songs”, from which the album title is apparently derived, is a very pleasant three movement work, each bearing a title conveying a ‘song’ of love. Overall this is a very nice, plaintive work – simple and direct in its emotion. “Tropical Dances” makes a similarly strong impression. Another three movement work, this time based on Latin forms and moods, as the title implies, the effect is quite nice and this conveys a “tropical” feel as Ibert might have done – less on overtly predictable rhythms and more built on impressions. In each case, pianist Martha Locker plays with supple technique and very nice phrasing that emphasizes the beauty of these pieces.
Morris’ “Piano Trio” for violin, cello and piano is another good example of his melody infused, somewhat tranquil style. This is a single movement work that is based mainly on sections of melody that get interplay among each instrument. There is plenty of tradeoff and some nice variety between a fairly legato approach and some more rhythmically varied pizzicato and staccato treatments of the main melody. It is fun to follow the melody as it moves along and some of the nicer effects are achieved when the long unison line are interrupted by the pizzicatos, albeit briefly. There are just a few moments when the piece seems to initiate development and forward motion but the style and tone shifts a tad unexpectedly. Here too, this is a pleasant piece that leaves a very positive impression – especially if listened to a couple of times in a row. The performance is very fine featuring Christine Kwak, violin, Nan-Cheng Chen, cello and pianist Eduard Laurel.
The two works in this collection for soloist and orchestra, in piano reductions, are the ones that I felt left a little longing to hear the fully orchestrated originals. The “Violin Concerto” for example begins in Morris’ characteristic and pretty melodic musings. Each of the three movements has a very picturesque title; “By the River”, “Breezes” and “Dance” each implies some very colorful orchestration. “Breezes” also features a very long line melody and the arpeggiations in the piano do suggest a gentle breeze, not at all a storm at sea. “Dances” in the finale are very waltz-like and gentle. Again, the piano reduction works, of course, but one gets the feeling that the net effect would be stronger hearing the orchestration.  Christine Kwak and pianist Eduard Laurel do a very nice job. Morris’ “Cello Rhapsody” is a similar story. This is a single movement work and very restful, a bit elegiac in places, having been written in memory of the composer’s first teacher. The tone, pacing and dynamic in this “Rhapsody” remain very consistent throughout its fifteen minutes; it is quite pretty, only occasional ‘restless’ and very moderate and plaintive in its approach.
I did enjoy this disc and I do find Dr. Morris’ music very interesting and pleasant. He does seem to be a composer – based on this disc alone – not prone to extremes. Melody and sentiment do seem to be his calling card and the aspects of composition that appeal to him the most. This is not music with a wide range of volume, tempo, mood, and harmony – no sudden “jolts”, no cock your head harmonies. Some might find that, therefore, the music does not make a strong indelible impression. The effect of each piece is one of simplicity. There is certainly a place for that. I would like to hear the “Violin Concerto” and the “Cello Rhapsody” in their full guise to really appreciate the effect. I cannot envision anyone not liking this music, especially if you want the simple pleasures of pretty melodies and uncomplicated textures.
— Daniel Coombs

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