PAUL REALE: Seven Deadly Sins; Composer’s Reminiscences; Violin Sonata, “Celtic Wedding”; Holiday Suite – Jessica Mathaes, violin/ Colette Valentine, piano – Naxos 9.70204, 65:26 ****:
New Jersey native Paul Reale is a former University of Pennsylvania student under the illustrious tandem that graced those halls, George Rochberg and George Crumb. His path seems quite different from them, and his music is much more in a traditionalist vein. One slight exception may be the work written for violinist Jessica Mathaes, Seven Deadly Sins. I hear a lot of what could be construed as echoes of Rochberg’s later style, and once in a while even some hints of Crumb’s sound world seem to drift through the music like the ghosts that particular composer favors so much. The title is certainly something that would attract Crumb, yet when I first put this on I was really at a loss as to what to expect; after all, do we really want to hear musical portraiture of sins, and deadly ones at that? And the work is not what I would characterize as a “joyful” listening experience, but then again, neither are half the pieces written in the Romantic era, let alone the last century. But Reale’s testament is not nearly as serious as the title would have you believe, and as his own notes prove. What he does is paint a picture of characteristics of such indulgences as opposed to direct and profound examinations of their essences. This makes for good musical copy, and the dramatic propulsion of the work is convincing whether or not we know the program or not.
Composer’s Reminiscences is a solo suite with movements assigned to Bartok, Puccini, Paganini, Webern, Corelli, Ives, and Haydn. Though Reale claims that this work represents his “impressions” of the various composer styles, and that “there is no consistent attempt to imitate any composer’s style”, I’m not buying it; it doesn’t take a genius to listen to any of these seven movements and hear the quite witty and clever authenticity of the very recognizable individualities of each of these men. It’s an attractive and easily assimilated work of no little skill, and quite demanding of the soloist.
“Celtic Wedding” is a violin sonata written way back in 1991, one in a series of works inspired by Anglo-Celtic folk melodies. I am sure Reale will forgive me if I dare to suggest that I hear faint ricochets of Peter Maxwell Davies’s irrepressible An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise even though the Scot/Irish dichotomy comes into play! But the piece has the same kind of joyful abandon that makes a perfect foil to the earlier Sins, and was a brilliant choice of programming. Finally, what the composer says of “novelty…taken the place of originality” in defense of his Holiday Suite (with an ingenious insertion of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five in the “New Year” movement) is clearly taken to heart in a work with such direct and uncluttered enumerations as “Thanksgiving”, “Christmas”, and the aforementioned celebratory break-out of the bubbly. It’s short but not long enough for me.
This is the second album I have reviewed by Jessica Mathaes, Concertmaster of the Austin Symphony, and if you haven’t heard her first recording you are missing something special.
This is something of a daring departure for a follow-up album, and it is very successful, bringing to light music that I daresay would remain hidden otherwise. Her tone is beautiful and her technical acumen second to none in an age where everyone seems to have this ability—and far too often, little else. The commitment to the music is obvious and the fine sense of phrasing and line are evident in every bar. Partner Colette Valentine displays an ample tone and clarity in her accompaniment, in truth neither secondary nor accessory but equal and essential.