SEAN HICKEY, ‘Concertos’ = Concerto for Cello and Orchestra; Concerto for Clarinet and Orch. – Dmitry Kouzov, cello/Alexander Fiterstein, clar./St. Petersburg State Academic Sym. Orch. /Vladimir Lande – Delos DE3448, 49:18 (5/28/13) (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

Sean Hickey is not a “new voice” for me, personally, as he is – among other things – the national development manager for Naxos. He is, first and foremost, a brilliant young composer whose style is in the heritage of fairly traditional structures and harmonic vocabulary; learned in part from his teachers, including Leslie Bassett and Justin Dello Joio. Mr. Hickey is a much-awarded composer, a talented guitarist and quite the Renaissance man who also writes a variety of travel journals and articles.

These two concerti give us a wonderful glimpse into Hickey’s compositional style but are also two very viable additions to the 21st Century repertoire for these two instruments. The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra is in standard three-movement form and is a highly engaging dramatic work. Hickey has said that, in this piece, he sought to ‘…fuse (his) interest in neo-classical clarity and design with what (he) feel(s) is the songful, heroic nature of the greatest cello concerto literature.’ Quite successful in all, with a bold opening movement that contains a chorale-like motif; Hickey has acknowledged an affinity for Sibelius in his early compositions (this piece dates from 2007, however). You can hear a bit of that broad, expansive texture in the poignant middle movement.

In fact, the central movement is nearly an elegy; written as a sort of evocation of the ‘anguish of the innocent people in war’s crossfire’ – the composer’s response to the recent conflict in Iraq. The closing movement has a wonderful little woodwind melody that plays its ways to and from the solo cello and provides the material for a propulsive and solidly stoic closing. This is an excellent new cello concerto and soloist Dmitry Kouzov, presently of the University of Illinois, is a very impressive performer.

I am fortunate to have already been very familiar with Sean’s Clarinet Concerto before this recording and find it, too, to be a hearty, original and captivating addition to the modern clarinet concerto repertory. This work is also written in standard three movement form and was written for David Gould, of the Metro Chamber Orchestra. The opening movement is constructed from a spiky, somewhat angular, four note motive and is the most frenetic of the three movements with plenty to do for the soloist. The scoring, here, is for clarinet and strings and like the concerto of Arnold Cooke, for example, there are demanding parts throughout and filled with delicious interplay. The middle slow movement is lyrical, built on a plaintive falling minor third motive. The harmonies are rich and go in a number of different directions. This movement sounds nearly jazz-inspired in places. The third movement is jaunty, forward-looking and deceptively difficult for the soloist. The central cadenza and the ensuing closing make use of traditional Scottish airs, “The Cross of Inverness” and “Glenmoriston;” followed by a G major melody based on the tune “Hunter’s House.” Hickey acknowledges the use of traditional reels and so forth in other works of his. This, too, is a terrific addition to the current clarinet concerto menu. Soloist Alexander Fiterstein is one of the country’s best players and performs with great tone and fluid technique. (This is a piece that really should be played often and I’ve told Sean I’ll try to do my part!)

Sean Hickey is, truly, a very talented composer, excellent writer and a friendly, engaging person, too!  This disc provides a great opportunity to get to know his music. I highly recommend this disc and also his Naxos release, Left at the Fork in the Road (B000BK53I8). I cannot resist an editorial comment I have made before: As wonderful as the St. Petersburg State Symphony (and the numerous other foreign orchestras who record new American music) is, I look forward to hearing the music of brilliant, young “break-through” American composers on recordings with American orchestras. It doesn’t have to be one of the “big five” (or the “mega ten”… whatever) This country, just like eastern Europe, has hundreds of quite good, lesser known professional municipal orchestras. I do get how it works, but I’ll keep making the suggestion. [Unfortunately, it’s all a dollars-and-cents thing…Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs