MARIA NEWMAN: Chamber Works = Pennipotenti; Sonata for Flute and Piano; The Pied Piper; Colores de Mexico – Hal Ott, flute/Peter Longsworth, p. /Maria Newman, v./Scott Hosfeld, viola/Amy Shulman, harp/John Magnussen, percussion – Montgomery Arts House MAHMR 1205201, 66:12 (11/29/11) **1/2:
I have only now become aware of this album of works by violinist and composer Maria Newman; the collection apparently have been released in late 2011. I also was not at all aware of Maria Newman, a California based artist and daughter of composer-conductor Alfred Newman.
All of these works are pleasant enough to listen to and are cleverly constructed but, for me, just do not leave a strong impression. I think each of these four examples of Newman’s chamber output channels other composers and other styles but do not define a distinctive ‘voice’ for her as a composer.
It seems, in fact, that her close collaboration with flutist Hal Ott has clearly flavored the Sonata for flute and piano as well as The Pied Piper. The whole album, in fact, features Hal Ott and each of these four works is very centered around the flute. We expect – and get – a lot for the flutist to do in such works; frequently lots of runs and flourishes and the like. Some of the ‘backdrop’ texture is a little passive in each case. Of these two works, I was more taken with the Flute Sonata than with the Pied Piper, although flutists in general may want to explore these works for their showy light nature.
The closing Colores de Mexico also has plenty for the flute and its four movements intends to depict scenes or wildlife that typify Mexico in some way; such as ‘The Rain’, ‘The Rattler’, ‘The River’, ‘The Coyote’ and the closing ‘Little Dance.’ Once again, this work, arranged for flute and small percussion, is a flute showcase but the percussion effects seem “added in” and in a couple cases, even a little trite – like rattles. Interestingly, the work was apparently written for clarinet alone, originally. I would be interested to see or hear that version of this score for comparison because I found this one a bit wanting.
My favorite work here was actually the opening Pennipotenti for full ensemble. This rather charming little suite depicts the flight patterns or composer’s impression of four different bird species; in order, dipper, snowy owl, hummingbird and falcon. (The title comes the Latin noun used to categorize “birds” in general) It has a perky nature and a light-hearted texture that I did enjoy.
I really do not know what else Maria Newman has done. I have no doubt she is a talented musician and her writing, based on this small sampling, is tuneful and showy for particular performers. I just find it to be pleasant but not too much beyond that. I would welcome the chance to hear more works, especially more recent output.