Judith Zaimont – Eternal Evolution – Navona Records (Enhanced CD) NV5846 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
I have been listening to Judith Lang Zaimont for fifteen years, when her Zones CD was released on Arabesque (Z6683). I saw her then, as now, as a master of the chamber music form, able to pull delight out of the unexpected. Her String Quartet (subtitled “The Figure”), demonstrates this by starting in one direction and, rather than following it in an expected way, abruptly turns right or left when least expected. Sometimes it even turns 180 degrees, beginning in allegro and suddenly morphing into adagio. The first movement, “In Shadow,” is full of such surprises, reminding me of the inventiveness of Witold Lutaslawski or Alfred Schnittke at certain works. The second movement begins with rough noisy edges, then dips briefly into pianissimo a few times as it appears to be searching for something. It finds it in a sweet Janacek-like melody that swims lyrical waters for a stretch. Mysterious shimmerings on the violins, firm declarative sforzandos, sprightly pizzicatos, and resolute chords are some of the musical tricks Zaimont executes in this second movement, making this a quite memorable piece.
Her eminently likable Piano Trio No. 2 is filled with her signature complex rhythms and sudden meter changes. It is one of her most highly dramatic and unconventionally tonal works. It also appears on the Zones CD mentioned earlier, recorded in the same Purchase College recital hall fifteen years earlier. But there’s a world of difference between the two renditions. While both are played well, the engineering on this version is more intimate, more closely miked, and more nuanced. Plus the pianist, Awadagin Pratt, has a more muscular style and tends to be more subtle than Joanne Polk, when the music calls for such restraints as “lurking in the background” (particularly in I, subtitled “Cold”). Her titles are probably significant to her students and colleagues, but I fail to see anything “warm” about the second movement. If anything, it conveys tenuous, regret, loneliness, particularly during the cello’s adagio a third of way through. It’s a powerful work overall, and well worth multiple listens.
The final two pieces, a viola solo called Astral and a five minute piano trio called Serenade, are worthy works, although not particularly profound ones. As Béla Bartók, György Kurtág, and Eugène Ysaÿe found out, it is very difficult to build an entire work around one instrument. Solo compositions keep demanding more intricacy from the composer. Astral is a work of considerable technical demands and has a few promising musical ideas (like the mysterious–and possibly pointless–vocalizations during the last minute). How they develop, what humor or pathos they reveal, and where they go for thirteen minutes are questions listeners have to answer for themselves. Serenade is a sweet piece and probably works well as an encore number when Zaimont’s works are performed. Like German chocolate cake, it has a nice flavor but doesn’t stay with you long.
Buy this CD primarily for the first two pieces and enjoy the excellent playing and stellar sound quality.