FESTINGER, R.: Diary of a Journey; The Coming of Age; Laws of Motion; A Dream Foretold – New York New Music Ensemble /Harvey Sollberger – Naxos 8.599.399, 66:13 (3/25/14) ***:

Richard Festinger has had a long career as a pianist, composer and even played guitar and toured with singer Joan Baez at pleas like Woodstock. This CD under review on the Naxos label includes some of Festinger’s classical music as performed by the New York Music Ensemble.

The composer describes Diary of a Journey as a metaphorical circle. It’s a work filled with dissonance and an uncertain forward motion. It’s an interesting piece, that stands on its own compositional style, although sometimes I hear echoes of John Cage and Charles ives.

The Coming of Age reflects the poetry of Denis Johnston. The work is divided into five sections, titled Upon Walking, The Dry Dry Land. Here., Poem, and the Coming of Age. The soloist in the last-mentioned work is Soprano Jo Ellen Miller.  Laws of Motion features a mournful cello and A Dream Foretold is  filled with interesting counterpoint and experimental rhythms that can be quite compelling.

All the music is quite listenable if you are a fan of contemporary music. Conductor Harvey Sollberger gets a lot out of the ensemble, as this music is challenging and in places downright difficult to play with staggered entrances and non-conventional rhythms. The playing is uniformly excellent.

Soundwise the CD is generally OK but not a sonic showpiece. Separation is not extended, most of the instruments seem to be steered to the center. I think the piano sounds a bit tubby, not as crisp as I would like; but these are esthetic decisions and my expectations might not be the same as other listeners.

Festinger is a skilled composer with a fascinating background. This CD should appeal to those who are willing to stray off the typical contemporary path and want to hear something new. I liked the music, but wish the recording quality had been a bit better.

—Mel Martin