SHARON RUCHMAN: ‘Chamber Music’ = Piece for Cello and Piano; Sea Glass; Awakening; Day at Play, Days End; Promise; Acceptance; Three Pieces for String Quartet; Translucence – various artists – Phoenix Classical, 69:49 **:
Sharon Ruchman is a graduate of the New England Conservatory, originally a vocal performance major. She has worked with Seiji Ozawa as an accompanist to the Conservatory Chorus and later attended the Yale School of Music as a music theory student under Allen Forte and Will Ruff. She has taught music in the New Haven schools and has enjoyed performances of some of her music at the Hartford Women Composers Festival. She is also, clearly, a talented pianist.
As a composer, this new disc of some of her chamber music offers an incomplete and not totally engaging picture. There is absolutely nothing edgy, nothing potentially offensive nor even “too modern” in her offerings. On the contrary, these pieces are all pleasant enough and pretty but in a rather bland “background” way.
These works exist in that sort of neo-Romantic old-fashioned “parlor music” kind of milieu. To explain further, her cello pieces – pretty, though they are – all sound a bit like Brahms meets Schubert meets Elgar and related territory. There are most assuredly strains of Brahms in the opening Piece for Cello and Piano. A similar feel is heard in the subsequent Sea Glass. My favorite of the cello works is her Acceptance that held my interest the most and more for the cello line than the accompaniment. Translucence also has some very nice moments as well but with a very casual static feel about it.
The solo piano piece, Promise, is a very simple work that really felt – to me – like some easy listening with touches of Chopin. There are some jaunty little sections that approached a theater music feel as well. My reaction, again, was simply “nice.”
Ruchman’s wind quartet Day at Play, Days End was, in many ways, the most interesting piece in this set. The wind writing is good and appropriately idiomatic. The feel to this two movement work is very “French”, sounding just a bit like Milhaud in places and seeming to fit in that early twentieth century vein that is a genre unto itself, in a way. For that reason, though, this piece stands aside from the others on this disc.
Three Pieces for String Quartet had some nice things going for it as well. The opening of the first “piece” is somewhat ominous and weighty, the middle movement had a tranquility tinged with tension to it and the finale had a sort of acidic drive to it. The work sounded just a little like the early Shostakovich, with a late 1940s mood going on. The movements are short, though, and material feels undeveloped. The final movement sounds like it really “wanted” to go somewhere that it didn’t. The ‘when’ and the ‘how’ the work ends are also a bit surprising for its rather undramatic brevity.
The performances in this collection are all solid; all good, but not terribly attention getting. In part, this may be due to the decidedly non-virtuostic writing.
I did not overtly dislike Sharon Ruchman’s music here. I do admit I had difficulty getting into it. Her writing – as represented here – does have a feel that it fairly non-descript. Definitely not something that indicates a new, unique modern voice nor something that can adequately compete with the classics that it somewhat conjures up; it exists in a vague middle ground. There are two other discs of her music from Phoenix Classical, an independent label that presses and introduces new music and lesser known artists to radio stations, among other things.
One album is never enough to adequately evaluate any composer or performer, but I feel simply that this is not true big-time classical concert hall material.
Haydn Quartets, spanning two decades