“Home and Away” – MORRIS ROSENZWEIG: Past Light; Just One Step Beyond; A Table of the Most Used Chords; "person, place,etc."; "reprise"; Rough Sleepers – New York New Music Ens./ Canyonlands Horn Quartet and the Canyonlands Ens./NOVA ens. – Albany

by | Oct 29, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“Home and Away” – MORRIS ROSENZWEIG: Past Light for clarinet, violin, cello & piano; Just One Step Beyond for violin & cimbalom; A Table of the Most Used Chords for horn quartet; “person, place, etc.” for flute duo & percussion; “reprise” for violin, viola, cello, bass & piano; Rough Sleepers for mixed ensemble & recorded ‘voices of the homeless’ – New York New Music Ensemble/ Canyonlands Horn Quartet and the Canyonlands Ensemble/NOVA ensemble – Albany Records TROY 1216 (Distr. by Albany), 77:00 ***:

Morris Rosenzweig is a new name for me. He has an impressive resume of premieres and performances including those with Speculum Musicae and the New Orleans Symphony. Originally from New Orleans, he has won recognition from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation among many others. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, he presently teaches at the University of Utah. According to the booklet notes in this new Albany collection of some of his chamber music, his music is consistently eclectic, mostly tonal but quite disjointed and not entirely centered on a defined tonality. It is “busy and nervous, jumpy and intense”. I do not disagree. I find these works not dislikable but definitely difficult to listen to in the analytical sense: compositional intent is sometimes hard to deduce.

“Past Light”, written for the New York New Music Ensemble is a small scale work using clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello and piano. It is conceived in three movements entitled, “One Thread Among It”, “All Together” and “Open”. The piece is apparently structured along the various ways to create musical line. As the booklet notes explain, it uses evenly spaced notes in varying speeds, long lines in succession, tones being passed from one instrument to another and a kind of packaging notes in groups to create longer lines. Regardless, I found it an interesting piece, a bit fractured in an almost pointillist way; like Webern with tonality.

“Just One Step Beyond” is a very short (just under six minutes), kind of odd work for violin and cimbalom.  The use of cimbalom in a way that would ordinarily be that for piano is intended to give this highly chromatic miniature a more “Eastern” sound (although one should definitely not expect Kodaly!)  It is well played here, especially by Roberta Zalkind, violinist. This piece is followed in the program by “At the Table of the Most Used Chords” for horn quartet, which, for me, is a highlight on this disc. Rosenzweig, a French horn player, himself, explains that the title is a reference to the chord progressions that are frequently used in typical jazz progressions and also those that are “most used” in conventional, early classical repertory. This piece also contains some of what appears to be a characteristic disjointed sound to it but there is also an overall drama, an almost “floating” quality to how the chords resolve or at least progress from instrument to instrument. The brass timbre actually helps heighten the effect in a very engaging way.

At this point on this disc, there is a program order problem that I feel the producers should have caught. Tracks #6-9 on the CD cover are listed as the four movements of “person, place, etc” for flute duo and percussion with Track #10 being listed as “reprise” for string trio and piano. In point of fact, “reprise” is Track 6 and “person, place, etc.” is Tracks #7-10. (I’m just picky with editing details like that.) “reprise” is an interesting shorter work that is fun to try to follow for its highly chromatic, pointillist (again) distribution of notes that comprise the non-serial rows. This is another very frenetic sounding but somewhat pleasant piece. The “person, place, etc.” is a four movement work with the somewhat cryptic titles, “The Halfs (not ‘halves’) of it”, “What Time is It?”, “KV&G” and “Outside Wilson”. The flute and percussion playing is interesting and blends well, the flutes even having to play and blow in a somewhat percussive manner.  There is not much information given within the packaging except that “KV&G” refers to “Kuchki Victimas and Gleb” (?) and is intended as a parody of the ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” movement, and its anti-Semitic streak, in Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” but the parody is intellectual. There is no discernable musical reference to the Mussorgsky. In “Outside Wilson”, one of the flutists takes up recorder, but the movement’s title is not explained.

The collection’s closing work, “Rough Sleepers”, is a high point in this collection. Written for a mixed ensemble and recorded voices, the work relies on first person comments and reactions to the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005 to create a very ironic sounding work. Rosenzweig, being from New Orleans, must have deep feeling of the human suffering and the government’s lack of response and he creates an almost “theater of the absurd” quality filled with irony. The victims’ voice recordings are mixed and distorted and blended with the music. The resulting sound is interesting, disturbing and bizarre all at once. Even the CD cover art, a painting called “FEMA to the Rescue” by artist Alan Gerson, is wonderful in its sarcasm, with its bureaucrat producing mounds of paper and red tape, literally, from a high perch while urgent human figures are washing away below.

The booklet notes by Brian Hulse are very artistically written but almost from an “insider” perspective. For those who do not know Rosenzweig’s work, this is an interesting introduction but a bit more information on the how or why of these works’ creation, including those titles, would help. I am not sure too many people would find this music an easy listen. It certainly requires a careful, thoughtful approach. But it is worth checking out, especially “Rough Sleepers” and provides much opportunity to try to get at the ‘why and how’ for Rosenzweig’s very unusual sound world.

— Daniel Coombs