“Gallery” – MICHAEL G. CUNNINGHAM: 3 Ballets and The Gastein Masterwork – Prague Radio Orch./ Moravian Philharmonic/St. Petersburg State Sym./Petr Vronsky/ Vladimir Lande/Robert Ian Winstin – Navona

by | Jan 28, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

“Gallery” – MICHAEL G. CUNNINGHAM: 3 Ballets and The Gastein Masterwork – Prague Radio Orch./ Moravian Philharmonic/St. Petersburg State Sym./Petr Vronsky/ Vladimir Lande/Robert Ian Winstin – Navona NV8593, 60:56 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Cunningham, an American composer, has 3 ballets; Nyadina, She, and Chrysalis at Mardi Gras.  Cunningham’s orchestral realisation of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in D Major (D850), titled Gastein Masterwork.  The Prague Radio Orchestra, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra are the featured ensembles on the disk; the groups handle the material with poise and a deft touch.  The recording itself  is also very well done with a nice lean pallet for the ensemble to shine.

The three ballets are based on very different source material; Nyadina is based on a ballet by Balanchine, about a water nymph enticed to join a garden party.  She, is from H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 novel of the same name, involving, a university teacher with a keen interest in archaeology, an undiscovered culture and an eternal tyrant queen: “She who must be obeyed”.  The last of the trio, Chrysalis at Mardi Gras is a Cinderella-like story by Ellis Saint Joseph of a girl who finds that love makes her beautiful. They all remind me a bit of the French impressionist style, especially in Nyadina when the wind rushes and swirls in and drives the nymph back into her pool. For She there is a tribal feel and with almost an exotic Middle Eastern tinge to the music and the dancing and police whistle in the streets at Mardi Gras for Chrysalis.  Cunningham can have lush melodies, a warm sound, a dance-like quality—these are for the ballet, yet he does not shy away from dissonance and driving rhythms. I was also surprised by the length of the works, after reading the stories; Nyadina, She, and Chrysalis are all under 14 minutes. Listened to each individually I was disappointed when they ended.

In the Gastein Masterwork Cunningham switches gears stylistically and becomes Schubert.   In this work Cunningham crafts a realizatiion of a full orchestral setting of one of Schubert’s piano sonatas.  The orchestration is handled deftly, and would not stand out to the majority of listeners that Schubert himself didn’t do the orchestration.  I found the piece whimsical and charming.

I really enjoyed this CD, not only for the musical presentation but also for the special treat; the CD is enhanced. When the CD is accessed on a computer there is a wealth of extras including a digital version of the CD booklet, the scores for each ballet (!), and the inclusion of computer background wallpapers and two ringtones.   The inclusion of the scores is a brilliant and wonderful addition; giving us who can read music, another insight to the composer’s imagination and craft.

—Darren Robinson

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