‘Sculpting the Air – Modern Works for Wind Instruments’ – Navona Records

by | Sep 27, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

‘Sculpting the Air – Modern Works for Wind Instruments’ = SAMUEL BARBER: Summer Music; JAMES ADLER: Reverie, Interrupted; RUSS LOMBARDI: The Answer Is No; JAN VAN DER ROOST: Chemical Suite; BARRY SEROFF: A Forum for Abandoned Euro Leaders; BRIAN GILLETT: Perihelion; JUAN SEBASTIAN LACH LAU: үenealoпaedie; RICHARD CROSBY: Sonata for Trombone and Piano – Solaris Quintet/Jordan P. Smith, tenor saxophone/James Adler, piano/Michael Finegold, solo flute/ Douglas Worthen, Vanessa Mulvey, Judith Braude, flutes/ Peggy Friedland, Linda True, alto flutes/Daniel Speer Trombone Quartet/ Black Sea Brass Quintet/Moravian Philharmonic Chamber Players/ Ken Haddix, trombone/Richard Crosby, piano – Navona Records NV 5852 (Distr. by Naxos), 60:17 ****:
This new collection on the always interesting Navona label is a wind player’s dream, chock full of new and exciting pieces for all kinds of winds, but holding great appeal for almost anyone who enjoys modern, interesting and approachable chamber music.
The only “known” commodity in this group is the masterwork, Summer Music, by the great Samuel Barber. This has become a staple in the woodwind quintet repertory (albeit a challenging piece) It so beautifully evokes summer as an atmosphere with vivid tone colors and some wonderful bluesy, restful moments. The Solaris Quintet, out of the University of Akron, plays wonderfully.
As wonderful as the Barber is, this collection take an immediate turn to the new and different with Reverie, Interrupted for tenor sax and piano by James Adler. This is a very nice jazz- inflected work that meanders in and out of the lyrical and the buoyant; all supported by a very neat noir-like piano part. Adler is a New York based composer, trained in Chicago, and presently on staff at Saint Peter’s College in New Jersey. This work is a very addition to the somewhat limited repertory for tenor saxophone and piano. Saxophonist Jordan Smith does a great job with liquid tone and accompanied nicely by the composer.
The Answer Is No by the University of Maine based Russ Lombardi is a short, tight and evocative work for five flutes; one of which is a soloist, joined by two soprano flutes and two alto flutes. This is an intriguing work; brusque and somewhat eerie in places as a collection of flutes can be. The language is tonal but harmonies are very colorful and the title is certainly suggestive in its almost “unanswered question” realm (a reference to Ives The Unanswered Question is implicit) Here, too, this is a welcome addition to a short list category. Aside from the Ives, this work reminded me a little of Alan Hovhaness’ The Spirit of Ink.
Chemical Suite by the Dutch composer, Jan Van Der Roost is a four-movement showpiece for trombone quartet. The very intriguing title refers to the composer’s musical “depictions” of certain chemical compounds. Commissioned by the Daniel Speer Trombone Consort, the work is dedicated to this ensemble. From the composer’s notes, “The first movement, named “Kalium Cyanide” (potassium cyanide, KCN) is relatively sour and biting in tone and ends in a surprising 4-semitone cluster, symbolizing inevitable death resulting from ingestion of this substance. The second movement “Glycerine” logically includes a great number of glissando notes, suggesting the slippery nature of this product. “Chloroform”, the third movement, starts off in good humor and sounds most familiar, until gradually the narcotic effect of this product starts to anaesthetize you: in complete serenity and apathy the four trombones end with a “G” in four octaves. “Ethanol”, better known as the alcohol (produced during fermentation), is the vigorous and volatile finale, characterized by a repeated ostinato B flat, while short and nervous motives are played simultaneously. The extensive use of all kinds of mutes enormously contributes to the special sound effects found in each of the four movements. This is frantic, fun and captivating work and the Speer quartet plays with enthusiasm!
Barry Seroff, from New York, provides what – for me – is the best title in this collection : A Forum for Abandoned Euro Leaders. Seroff is himself a flutist and this flute duo is heavily influenced by a sense of improvisation and involves some aggressive extended techniques. There is a curious mix of short melodic bursts, almost classical sounding, interrupted by over blowing and vocalizing and so forth. It is an interesting work which makes me want to know more about the title!
Brian Gillett is a most interesting person! During his studies at Oberlin, he developed an interest in medicine and, in 1995, he enrolled in McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Montreal, PQ. Drawing from his experiences in the hospitals of Montreal, he composed works for voice, electronic media, solo instruments and chamber ensembles. Four years later, he arrived in New York as both a composer and medical doctor. Dr. Gillett presently resides in Brooklyn, NY where he composes and works as an emergency medicine physician. His Neo-Romantic style often resonates Judaic tonality, and Eastern European elements are woven into nearly all of his works. His Perihelion for brass quintet shows his love of jazz and a somewhat extemporaneous style. This seven minute work is very engaging and has some fine moments for each instrument. The Black Sea Brass Quintet plays very well and this work is a terrific addition to the quintet repertory.
Juan Sebastian Lach Lau, composer and pianist, currently teaches composition at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Mexico. His music has been played by Cuarteto Latinoamericano, The Barton Workshop, Champ d’Action, Modelo 62, Insomnio, Soil and The Electronic Hammer, among others. His composition teachers have included Louis Andriessen in Holland, among many others. Үenealoпaedie (Genealopaedie) is probably the most abstract work in this set. Scored for harp, flute, viola, cello and bass, this is a brief excursion into small snippets of tone row that serve as harmonic and melodic fragments that get bounced around the ensemble with the harp acting almost as the impetus in an effective way. I found it hard to follow; perhaps others will understand it more. The Moravian Phil chamber players handle this very challenging score quite well.
Closing this intriguing collection is a terrific Sonata for Trombone & Piano by the Kentucky based composer Richard Crosby. This catchy and invigorating work is another that makes a great addition to a relatively scarce category. In a way, this work is similar to the Barber in that ‘one of these things is not like the other’ This is a tuneful, traditional and pleasant piece that showcases the soloist—in this case Ken Haddix with the composer at the piano—very well!
Navona continues to find composers that are not well known and music that deserves to be heard, performed by very talented artists. With the obvious exception of the Barber, these are new and interesting works, to be sure. I personally was most impressed with the Brian Gillett and Jan Van Der Roost works but I found quality of construction and quality of performance in each. I recommend this disc to anyone, being confident that there is at least something for everybody!
—Daniel Coombs

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