Moments of Arrival = Symphonic works and songs by ROUSSANOVl; McQUILLAN; WILLIAMS; QUALLIONTINE; BURNS – Linda Lister, soprano/ Chorus of Prague/ Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Julius P. Williams – Centaur 

A selection of contemporary music celebrates art, creativity, Nature, and American political life.

Moments of Arrival = ROUSSANOVA: Moments of Arrival; McQUILLAN: Poet Song; The Long Goodbye; WILLIAMS: InEqualities in A Society; QUALLIONTINE: Celestial Nights, Part I; BURNS: The Voyage – Linda Lister, soprano/ Chorus of Prague/ Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Julius P. Williams – Centaur CRC 3456, 65:17 [Distr. by Naxos] ****: 

Russian-American composer Elena Roussanova, Associate Professor in Composition at the Berklee College of Music, has a notable symphonic work in her three-movement Moments of Arrival, a celebration of those inspiring impulses that arise spontaneously, either through Nature or through human interactions. The musical syntax, tonal and highly suggestive of the American influences of Copland and Creston, achieves an appealing melos as well as rhythmic engagement. The first movement, “Moving Forward,” opens with raindrops and proceeds to bucolic musings on landscape. “Reflections” pays likely homage to Thoreau, a lakeside scene upon which the moon casts images upon the willows and the water. Set as an Adagio – Espessivo, the music enjoys a glossy patina, somewhat of Hollywood, somewhat of Howard Hanson. “Moment of Arrival” takes up the spirited-journey motif, Allegro Energico, rife with brass and wind colors, optimistic, the writing reminiscent of good wind-band music on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This is the music perhaps heard in James Agee’s imagination of a family outing.

Lee T. McQuillan (b. 1950) conceived his nine-minute Poet’s Song as a response to a work by Margaret Carbo. McQuillan centers much of his music-making in the Connecticut areas of Hartford and New Haven. Set for soprano and chorus, the piece proceeds in a groping fashion, the words’ searching for a form in the manner of Pater’s aesthetic, that all arts aspiring to the condition of music. Tonal but no less harmonically askew, the music’s achieving the very “cacophonous climax” of color and kaleidoscopic, numinous, rapture ascribed to the poet’s power for creativity.  Another Carbo poem, “The Long Goodbye,” also calls upon the soprano Linda Lister to incant a lament for the composer’s father, who, dying of Alzheimer’s disease, confronts us with slow deterioration and divestment of self.  Resignation looms throughout the seven-minute work, the strings serving as a chamber ensemble, love mixed with implacable loss.

The death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 drives Julius P. Williams’ InEquities in a Society, a “political” piece that laments this country’s tendency to crucify young men of color. The oboe carries us forward, merging with a string melodic line whose angularity will result in a full “confrontation” with the repressive agents of “authority.” The syntax shares elements with Shostakovich, insofar as dissonances and ostinati carry the brutal tension of an environment poisoned by racial profiling and oppression.  The tympani marks the fatal encounter, and the battery soon crushes any lyric consolation the oboe triea to offer.

Armand Qualliotine (b. 1954) has a three-movement 2012 orchestral suite, Celestial Nights (Part I), which he considers a “serenade” in a “cosmic” mode. Large gestures of “Interstellar Space” in suspensions invoke the “space music” mode of some twenty years ago, with xylophone effects, harp, plucked strings, and chirping woodwinds and fluttered brass. “Nova” means to illuminate our space, moving slowly, featuring horn and harp. The passing dissonances convey a sense of Ives, while the exotic colors may remind auditors of Hovhaness. “Binary Star” proceeds by selected effects, clusters of sounds and impulses that avoid cadences on definite keys. The musical “progress” here, such as it is, does not seem any more advanced than what Edgard Varese achieved even more boldly a century ago in his “planes” and “masses” of sound.

A piece by Reynard Burns (b. 1946), the Harlem-born composer, concludes the disc, his The Voyage. The influence of Charles Ives becomes quite obvious, since Burns incorporates patriotic and religious doxology into his quarter-hour symphonic excursion. He wishes to trace a kind of “racial” progress or sense of democratic unity through music in terms of American history, cleverly combining occasionally contrary elements, like “Yankee Doodle” and the Dies Irae from the Latin Mass. If Mr. Burns considers himself a black Morton Gould I should not be surprised.  In its own way, the piece fulfills certain aspirations of composer William L. Dawson, creator of the Negro Folk Symphony that Stokowski championed fifty years ago.

—Gary Lemco