PAUL MORAVEC: Cool Fire – Edward Arron, Stephen Williamson, Marya Martin, Erik Ralske, Jeewon Park, et al. – Naxos

by | Jan 15, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PAUL MORAVEC: Cool Fire (TrackList below) – Edward Arron, Stephen Williamson, Marya Martin, Erik Ralske, Jeewon Park, et al. – Naxos 8.559393, 45:00 ***:

I’m not sure I would enjoy following Paul Moravec around for a day. It would probably be exhausting. His music is a fount of restless energy and propulsive motifs. The pieces on this disc, with one exception, lunge at the listener with extended arms, as if to say, “Hop aboard but hold on tight!” Chamber Symphony opens with a frenetic piano engaging playfully with woodwinds and percussion. It’s like a county fair midway at nighttime, with different instruments vying for attention. Like most of his music, it’s tonal and accessible, but not exactly neo-romantic. Dynamics don’t vary much within movements. The third one, entitled Quick, provides even more lively music, at one point speeding like a cheetah after some hapless ruminant, pausing only to leap over a stump. The movement ends and presents the schizoid final section, half “Serene” and half “Vivace!” It’s not a contemplative, gloomy, or seductive interlude, nor a foreshadowing sequence preparing us for the whoosh to come. It’s just a two-minute breather, a swatch of contrasting color, while Moravec cooks up the humdinger finale.

And there you have much of this composer’s essence. Vivace good, adagio not so much. His slow sections, the parts that the late great Liberace would have dismissed as “boring,” are just connective tissue for the more vivacious music on either side of it. Moravec won the Pulitzer for his busy and inventive Tempest Fantasy. Can he do it again? The second piece on the disc, the Debussyan Autumn Song, is his worthy effort at the slow and moody. But it soon disappoints. With its bright-hued musical peaks and valleys, it could almost be used as seduction music, if it weren’t so damned short (five minutes!).

The eponymous work, Cool Fire, is like a horse in a steeplechase: it has a quickly accelerating beginning, plus deft maneuvering past obstacles like repetition and audience ennui, then a sudden stop at a stream to drink the waters of repose. It’s dazzling, scintillating even. A true crowd pleaser. Until the adagio. Titled “Tenderly, Singing,” this movement hearkens back to a Mendelssohn arioso, yet the level of invention is not so high. Musical ideas don’t develop aggressively, they’re stated like points in a dissertation. The audience is presented with tidy lyrical moments throughout, and a dollop of drama in the woodwind recapitulation. But there is precious little originality in this eight-minute stretch. In the final movement, “Con fuoco,” the horse begins the race again and leaps over barriers like Pegasus ascending.
All of this happens in a mere 45 minutes–unforgivable in these days of the wide digital frontier.

Chamber Symphony
Autumn Song
Cool Fire

— Peter Bates

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