‘Fire & Time’ = KAREN A. TARLOW: Kavanah (Remembrance) ; STEPHEN YIP: The Legendary Phoenix; ALLEN BRINGS: Short Symphony No. 1; PAUL OSTERFIELD: Monadnock; STEVEN BLOCK; Shadows; HOWARD QUILLING: From Quiet Beginnings – Matt Haimovitz, cello/Christopher O’Riley, piano /St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orch./Alexander Titov, cond./Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Martin Levicky, piano/Petr Vronsky/Kiev Philharmonic Orch./Robert Ian Winstin /Slovak Radio Sym. Orch./Robert Stankovsky /Warsaw Philharmonic Orch./Gil Rose – Navona Records NV7871 (Distr. by Naxos), 70:31 ****:
Here is a very interesting and well-played collection of some new orchestral works that illustrates what many consider the very eclectic approach to composition that has tended to define American new music the last decade or so. Each piece has something to offer and the composers are, for the most part, not widely known and this makes for a very entertaining album, indeed!
To begin with, Karen Tarlow is a former professor of composition from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and has written a large number of works and in nearly every genre. The fairly brief Kavanah (Remembrance) is a picturesque work that contains overtly Jewish melodies and evokes both the feel as well as the difficulties of the region and that of sacred Hebrew ritual.
Of the composers on the disc, Stephen Yip is the one I was most familiar with. The Hong Kong-born composer is mostly a successful freelance composer with a wide range of works which have been performed internationally. Yip teaches at Houston Community College. His The Legendary Phoenix, heard here, is an atmospheric tone poem of sorts for piano and orchestra. The legend of the phoenix bird (wherein the bird rises again from its own ashes) seems to serve as a wonderful metaphor in which the piano takes a ever more prominent role our of the rumblings of the orchestra. The orchestration is quite exotic with some very prominent touches in the flutes and percussion. I enjoyed this work a lot!
Allan Brings is a long time New York composer and educator who studied with Otto Luening and Roger Sessions, among others. He, too, has written a substantial number of works and had them recorded and performed in a number of venues. Brings is also a professor emeritus at Queens College in the City University of New York. His Short Symphony No. 1 is a very interesting work, written in the standard four movements. Brings’ style is tonal but certainly has a broad harmonic palate. There are elements of Hindemith, Bartok and even early Schoenberg that I felt in this work. There is an engaging quality to the whole, especially in the very dance-like second movement.
Paul Osterfield is a young Tennessee-born composer who presently teaches at Middle Tennessee State University. Osterfield studied with some prominent modern composer including Steven Stucky, Roberto Sierra and Donald Erb. Osterfield has a very colorful and sensual style of orchestrating that would remind some of that of his teachers. His orchestral work, Monadnock, heard here is a prime example. This work in many ways depicts a lone mountain that rises out of its own natural surroundings (much as in the native American for the same impressive natural phenomenon.) This is really a dramatic and impressive work.
Steven Block has a very diverse background, as a pianist, music critic, on-air classical radio host and composer. He is also the chairperson of the University of New Mexico department of music whose music has been widely performed. Block’s Shadows for orchestra is a very impressionistic work with an evocative feel that relies on some very creative percussion use and punctuated chord progressions that are somewhat reminiscent of Messiaen. This is another very nice work.
Howard Quilling’s From Quiet Beginnings closes this collection quite strongly. Quiet Beginnings emerges as one of the stronger works on this album and, interestingly, this recording was made in 2000 and stands well. This strongly tonal work, written for the Bakersfield Symphony as part of the city centennial is very ceremonial and bold; the “quiet beginnings” being the origins of the city of Bakersfield. The composer notes that the music itself starts quietly, “grows, plateaus and grows again.”
It is true that this is a compilation album. For those looking for a strong thematic or stylistic connection between the works on this disc, this is not necessarily present. However, this is nice collection, performed quite well, illustrating the vast array of styles that actually is “the American style”. I thought that the strongest works in the collection are the Yip, Osterfield and Quilling. But each work makes for good listening and each listener will find their own favorites in this interesting collection.
Historic renderings of music from France