It’s an audience pleaser. It’s neo-tonalist. It’s got a Shakespearean hook. It won the Pulitzer Prize. All of these elements conspire to make Paul Moravec’s Tempest Fantasy a hit, a very palpable hit. There’s even a dollop of programmatic flavor stirred in. Three of the five sections involve impressions of central charters in The Tempest. Ariel is sprightly, accompanied by impish, high-register runs on the clarinet. Prospero is contemplative, even doleful, an adagio movement that, if you know the story, is about letting go of your powers. Its bittersweet atmosphere is balanced by Caliban, whose bass clarinet sequence suggests a lumbering beast knocking things over. Sweet Airs refers to “sounds and sweet airs,” Caliban’s line describing the bewitching sounds of the island. This lyrical movement has a well-constructed arc of intensity, reaching its peak a minute before its end, then drifting off as if to sleep. Fantasia is appropriately titled: It’s nicely witty, leaving the audience at a performance I attended in an upbeat mood and slightly out of breath.
For the most part, violinist Maria Bachmann is more than qualified to play this piece, but her final quaver ripples a bit more than it should. The other pieces on this disc are piano trios–engaging, but not as expansive in theme or character as Tempest Fantasy. Mood Swings, according to the composer, makes audible “the workings of the central nervous system.” Such ambition! Probably not long enough to accomplish all that, the work does feature quirky piano work by Jon Klibonoff. All three musicians play well together, as they explore the tricky caverns of the bi-polar personality. The third work, B.A.S.S. Variations, is a set of variations on two musicians’ names. It’s livelier and more whimsical than the other works, with gripping rhythmic interludes and one eerie decrescendo-decelerando. Scherzo, true to its name, is a short busy work designed specifically for encores. This disc is perfect to play while driving, as it will keep you awake fifty percent longer than a comparable nineteenth-century work.
— Peter Bates