ELLIOTT SCHWARTZ: Hall of Mirrors; Crystal: A Cycle of Names and Memories; Kaleidoscope; Rainforest with Birds – Elliott Schwartz, piano/ Radnofsky Sax Quartet/other soloists/Harvard U. Band/Everett & Dickey – Innova

by | Jul 14, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ELLIOTT SCHWARTZ: Hall of Mirrors; Crystal: A Cycle of Names and Memories; Kaleidoscope; Rainforest with Birds – Elliott Schwartz, piano/ Radnofsky Saxophone Quartet/ Paul Hoffman, piano/ Tom Goldstein, percussion/ Marc Thayer, violin/ Henry Skolnick, contrabassoon/ Paul Vasile, piano/ Harvard University Band/ Tom Everett, Nat Dickey, conductors – Innova 681 [www.innova.mu], 67:27 ***:

Elliott Schwartz is a native New Yorker who has spent nearly 50 years in New England. Currently he is retired from Brooklyn College where he spent over 40 years teaching. Following him in his career is a number of impressive grants, awards, and fellowships, and he also has to his credit a number of books on music as well.

So how does his music sound? Well, when I read in the notes that his “style is marked by a fondness for unsynchronized layers of activity (the musical equivalent of double exposure), highly dramatic—even theatrical—gestures, and brilliant instrumental colors” I know I am not going to be whistling an easy and memorable tune when all is over. And that is fine—some really great and memorable music is tuneless, esoteric, and takes lots of time getting to know and love.

This is not one of those discs I fear. While the 12-tone system, which serves as a basis for much of the music here, has had its masterpieces, those who were able to control and even make it work in wondrous ways are few and far between. The system, while a legitimate one, has not had many people who can absorb its mysteries to the extent that their own musical logic and inspiration find an outlet in the easiest possible manner, especially as a communicative and expressive idiom.  Schwartz also has a penchant for names and letters, using them to base motives from, and while mentioned in the notes it is really not a factor as far as ultimate comprehensibility. Listening to this album was a chore for me, a brush with past academic compositions of the seventies and early eighties – though I am sure there are those out there who still thrive on this sort of thing. For the most part, the performances are all one could ask for

Except, perhaps, on the most interesting piece here, Rainforest with Birds. This piece uses improvisation and a collage technique in its employment of outside sources (in this case, CDs of bird sounds), but one looks in vain for something to unify one’s listening expectations. And the Harvard University Band is definitely struggling with the piece – valiantly I must say – but the faults are obvious. The sound on this last piece is also somewhat congested and one-dimensional. If you know and like Schwartz, you will like this. All others listen first.

— Steven Ritter

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