PAUL MORAVEC: “Northern Lights Electric” = Northern Lights Electric; Clarinet Concerto; Sempre Diritto!; Montserrat: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra – David Krakauer, clarinet/Matt Haimovitz, cello/Boston Modern Orch. Project/Gil Rose – BMOP/sound 1024; 70:42 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Paul Moravec’s music, for me, is consistently bracing, exhilarating and entertaining. His music is written in a style and language that speaks to the logical continuation of some of the great American masters; such as Copland, Schuman and Thomson. He has written in every genre including some recent outstanding contributions to opera. Moravec won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for the Tempest Fantasy, a chamber quartet I personally love!
So, as a fan already, I was anxious to hear these new pieces, which do not disappoint. Moravec comments that each of these works was inspired by a particular place or at least a “sense of place.” Northern Lights Electric is a stunning orchestral showpiece inspired by one of the first times the composer saw the aurora borealis from New Hampshire! The orchestral color is bright, colorful and serves as what Moravec calls a “soundtrack” for these ‘electric’ lights. This is a wonderful and bright work that should be used often for an invigorating concert opener!
As a clarinetist and fan of the Tempest Fantasy and also of the very gifted, but unique David Krakauer, Moravec’s Clarinet Concerto held special interest for me. The work is written in a fairly standard three movement pattern but it also speaks to the particular talents of the soloist for whom it was written. David Krakauer is a supremely gifted clarinetist who crosses the performing worlds of klezmer, jazz and classical in nearly seamless fashion. However, his fairly wide vibrato and his ethnic/jazz endemic ability to pitch bend and always sound quite “exotic” makes his playing ideally suited to music that calls for a wide open, pan-cultural sound. Moravec makes creative use of the string section only in this piece (not scored for full orchestra) that also helps to showcase the sound of the clarinet in this environment. This is a terrific and virtuoso work that does call for a particular type of clarinet sound; of which David Krakauer is the definitive master.
Sempre Diritto! (basically, “Straight Ahead”) is the composer’s paean to the cheerful but occasionally vague advice one hears from Italians when asked for directions to a particular landmark, such as in Venice. This is not a ‘full speed ahead’ work, however. It is slow, quiet and reflective filled with lovely string and brass melodies. The composer also points out that there is a harmonic discontinuity with the notion of “straight ahead”. While the melodies point to a pleasing and grateful “conclusion”, the harmonies along the way carry the symbolic tourist and the melodic flow through some twelve-tone (but not serial) territory. This is a beautiful work and surprises in its intensity contrasted to the meaning behind the title.
This collection concludes with what, in my opinion, is one of the finest new cello concerti written over the past thirty years. Moravec’s Cello Concerto is titled “Montserrat” after the beautiful mountainside abbey that the great Pablo Casals frequented in his youth. This is a single movement work written from the humblest of beginnings, a rising three note motive that calls for the direction of the rest of the piece. There is also a fascinating, somewhat arresting use of a brief quote from a portion of the Monteverdi Vespers, in homage to the abbot lifestyle and the serenity of the artistry of Pablo Casals. This is a wonderful piece. I am a big fan of cello concerti in general and, as I said, one of the best of recent vintage (along with that of Tobias Picker, “IMHO”)
Paul Moravec has been a wonderful composer and university professor whose style fits what is sometimes referred to as “American eclecticism” for a long time. These are works that should be played frequently. For anyone not familiar with his music and curious about whether you will enjoy it or not, this disc ought to convince you!