SCOTT BRICKMAN: “Winter & Construction” = Piano Sonatas #2 & #3; L’Orfeo; Fiddleheads; Snowball; Knotty Pines; Winter and Construction – Nathanael May, p./Matt Gould, guitar/Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould, v. – Ravello Records

by | Jul 26, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

SCOTT BRICKMAN: “Winter & Construction” = Piano Sonata #2; L’Orfeo; Piano Sonata #3; Fiddleheads; Snowball; Knotty Pines; Winter and Construction – Nathanael May, piano/Matt Gould, guitar/Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould, violin – Ravello Records RR7823, 61: 04 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Scott Brickman, a Chicago native, is a composition professor at the University of Maine at Fort Kent and began playing piano at an early age. Perhaps most interestingly, Brickman admits being interested in twelve tone serialism at an early age as well, having performed a twelve tone Nocturne he had written the summer before. Brickman studied composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he also got involved in composer advocacy, becoming a founding member of the Wisconsin Alliance of Composers in 1984. His doctorate was obtained at Brandeis University where he studied and worked with two members of the Harvard music faculty, Donald Martino and Mario Davidovsky through residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, an educational Artists Colony in New Smyrna Beach Florida.
So, let it be said that I was not familiar with Scott Brickman – nor the UMFK – until now and I immediately found it interesting that these days any composer was still using twelve-tone techniques as a compositional platform. In Brickman’s case, his technique is not strict serialism (as in the Vienna School) and listeners should not approach this interesting collection to hear such. (Brickman states in the packaging notes that he considers what he does “2nd Viennese /U.S. East Coast School”)  It is really more a dodecaphonic palate where the harmonies are based on hexachords with a typical octavian context and – all this aside – the results are quirky to be sure but pretty interesting to listen to.
Brickman indicates that he views his works as falling into “categories” that align, to stages of his development as a composer. To an extent, I see the alignments he is referring to, without knowing that much about his compositional output. For example, he says that the Piano Sonatas (of which #2 and #3 are heard here) are reflective and sound like a player improvising. There is certainly an somewhat “improvisatory” quality to these two works I found attractive. I was especially impressed with the somewhat spiky and angular characteristics of the Piano Sonata #2. Pianist Nathanael May handles this complicated fare quite well.
Brickman considers his solo string works (those for violin as well as for guitar) to be “serious and virtuosic.”  This collection offers three very unique and interesting works that illustrate the point. L’Orfeo for solo guitar bears three movement titles that reflect on aspects of the Orpheus legend: “Styx”, “Eurydice” and “Morpheus”. This is a complex work requiring much of the guitarist and there certainly is a kind of “struggle” or “conflict” within the sound, much like what the Greek hero endured. Similarly, Fiddleheads for solo violin is a three movement work that contains some “fiddle” playing touches – such as in the very idiomatic “Steady as She Bows” – but also some real demanding and impressive bow shredding, as in the closing “Golem.” Here, too, soloist Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould is a very fine violinist and gives this work some real character. These two players (who perform as Duo46) are brought together in the tuneful, eccentric Knotty Pines (my favorite in this grouping, with its wry references to the Mendelssohn Concerto among other things.)
These same performers, May, Gould and Schneider-Gould, also form the Strung Out Trio and Brickman has written music for them on several occasions. The two works represented here, Snowball and Winter and Construction (a wonderful reference to an old Chicago joke about the only two real “seasons” in the Windy City being… “winter and construction”), are both interesting and entertaining works. Brickman considers these “public pieces” with a certain East Coast frame of reference. Snowball is a very compelling work with a sort of “coldness” that grows into something with some nearly jazz tinged elements. The cleverly-titled Winter and Construction is another very atmospheric work that has moments of jazz here and there and is a quite engaging work!
Scott Brickman’s work is very unique in many ways. It would certainly be a mistake to approach this collection with trepidation, focusing on the “twelve tone” framework he uses and conjuring up what – for many – is non-stop atonality. The music is more accessible, even entertaining, than that. However, it is not at all crossover classical or true jazz and such. It is more “academic” than that. Brickman’s music may – for some – take a couple of listenings to get into the very hard to define and one of a kind style that it occupies.
I think it well worth doing so!
—Daniel Coombs