Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano; Britten: Lachrymae; Paul Chihara: Sonata for Viola and Piano; Paul Siskind: Etwas für Bratsche (etwas rasch!). Shelly Tramposh, viola; Cullan Bryant, piano. Ravello. $12.99.
Tony R. Clef: Arrangements and Transcriptions for Guitar. Big Round Records. $12.99.
Nicholas Sackman: Concertino for Violin and Orchestra; Scott Michal: Encomiums; William Thomas McKinley: Concert Variations. Glenn Dicterow, Ondřej Lébr and Vít Mužík, violin; Karen Dreyfus, viola; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vit Micka and Petr Vronský; Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Carl St. Clair. Navona. $16.99.
Francis E. Fairman III: The Fox; Diurnal Thoughts; New York Taxi; Concerto for Clarinet. Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gil Rose; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor and Vit Micka; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vit Micka. Navona. $16.99.
Lisa Miles: Nálada and Other Works. Lisa Miles, violin and mandolin; Erin Snyder, cello; Mike Marcinko, bass; Anne LeBaron, harp; Laura Brungard, voice; Mike Michalski, guitar. Ravello. $12.99.
Ayala Asherov-Kalus: Three Rivers; William A. Fletcher: Three Lines (After Roethke); James Scully: Bouncing About; Jim Tribble: At Odds; Ron Nagorcka: Out of the Blue, Prelude in Memoriam, Zygodactyl Dance; Ingrid Stölze: The Road Is All. Karolina Rojahn, Lukáš Klánský and Robert Pherigo, piano; Ondřej Lébr and Ann Marie-Brown, violin; Neil Casey, viola; Doug Graham, clarinet; Lisa Hennessey, flute; Lawrence Figg, cello. Navona. $16.99.
Keith Kramer: Emerge. Capitol Hill Chamber Players, Sonora Ensemble, Beyond Sonic Boundaries Orchestra, Mariner String Quartet, Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and others. Navona. $16.99 (2 CDs).
Border breaking is basic for many composers today. Even those who continue to work in established forms interpret them differently and do not hesitate to step outside the strictures within which the forms were developed. The result, this holiday season, is a plethora of interesting new CDs whose works, if they will surely not be to all tastes, will equally surely be appealing to people who, like the composers and performers themselves, have evolved an expanded musical comfort zone. Violist Shelly Tramposh is a perfect example of the new sensibility. A highly accomplished performer, with a tone both sweet and rich, she more than holds her own in performances of viola-repertoire standards: Hindemith’s Sonata and Britten’s Lachrymae, op. 48. These are well-considered and thoughtful readings that evoke the works’ architectures and expressiveness. But Tramposh does not hesitate to add the lesser sonata of Paul Chihara to a CD containing the Hindemith: Chihara’s work’s emotions are on the superficial side, but Tramposh (ably abetted by pianist Cullan Bryant) plumbs what depths the work has. And Paul Siskind’s Etwas für Bratsche (etwas rasch!) – the title means “Something for Viola (something surprising!)” – makes a fine contrast to Britten’s extended variation-form tribute to John Dowland. The CD, by the way, is meaninglessly titled “Sprezzatura,” although it could well have been called “Spezzatura,” which means “dividing” – in this case, between standard and nonstandard viola works, all of them played with aplomb.
Guitarist Tony Clef divides up his new CD as well – here, between traditional classical repertoire on the one hand and pop, rock and dance on the other. Clef is a clever arranger of these 11 short works, not only making Purcell’s “Me, O Ye Gods” sound heartfelt and maintaining the surface-level emotionalism of Villa-Lobos’ “Melodia Sentimental” but also presenting engaging versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Out of My Dreams,” a Poulenc waltz and the Lennon/McCartney standard, “When I’m 64.” This is a brief CD – just 38 minutes – but nevertheless starts to pale after a while because of the rather monochromatic sonority. It is nevertheless effective, although more so in small doses than when heard straight through. Similarly, there is no particular reason to listen from start to finish to a CD called “Divergence,” which (by the way) is another word that’s pretty close to “Spezzatura.” The three works here are united only in being composed for violin and orchestra and in being well performed by their respective soloists and ensembles. But they otherwise have little in common. Nicholas Sackman’s Concertino zips by in just 11 minutes, contrasting delicate and rhythmically intense elements throughout its three movements. Scott Michal’s Encomiums has more depth if less surface-level appeal: it is a tribute to the contrapuntal styles of Hindemith, Bach and Prokofiev, with each of its three movements reflecting the work of one of the earlier composers. William Thomas McKinley’s Concert Variations takes an old form at face value and then jazzes it up considerably, its underlying (and rather Mozartean) theme put through its paces in sections with such designations as Presto possible e molto bravura and Con brio e fantastic. This work is fun to hear and devilishly difficult to play – all in all, a winning combination.
The virtuosity of Richard Stoltzman makes a good case for Francis Fairman’s Clarinet Concerto on a CD devoted to four previously unreleased Fairman works, and the concerto comes across as an intermittently attractive composition that, at nearly half an hour, is somewhat overlong for what it has to say. Diurnal Thoughts, a work whose title is also that of the CD itself, suffers from a similar tendency to prolong and expand ideas (largely based on visual impressions) that would perhaps be better communicated in briefer form. Indeed, the two shorter works here, The Fox and New York Taxi, have more immediate impact and appeal and a greater sense of impressionistic effectiveness. “Impressionistic effectiveness” is also what Lisa Miles strives for in the dozen works for various instrumental combinations on a new CD; and here too the shorter pieces tend to be more interesting than the longer Now I See Myself (for violin, electric violin and mandolin) and Folie A’Deux (for violin, electric violin and bass). It is the instrumental combinations that are of greatest appeal here – the themes and the progress of the music are more ordinary, which is why the shorter works (in which a listener can stay focused on the blending and contrasting of instruments) tend to work better. Miles can write perfectly well for violin and cello (#1 Driving, Parallel, Recessional), and her intertwining of violins is attractive (Bowl Dance, Lynn’s Dance). But it is in works that pull together less-often-heard sonorities that she excels: Acceptance for mandolin and bass, for example, and Potent for electric violin and harp.
There is nothing unusual in the instruments employed in a CD of modern chamber music called Claviatures, but the eight pieces here (three by Ron Nagorcka and one each by Ayala Asherov-Kalus, William A. Fletcher, James Scully, Jim Tribble and Ingrid Stölzel) use the traditional piano, flute, clarinet and strings in some clever and distinctive ways. The disc is something of a hodgepodge – it is hard to see any significant relationship among the pieces – and the intent of the works themselves is not always clear, although Nagorcka’s Zygodactyl Dance comes across in a straightforwardly interesting way, Asherov-Kalus’ Three Rivers names the waterways it salutes, and Fletcher’s Three Lines (After Roethke) gives the lines as movement titles to indicate what the composer was trying to evoke. Listeners can easily find something to enjoy here, although not necessarily the entire disc from start to finish. Ditto the two-CD set – which seems a tad excessive – devoted to the music of Keith Kramer. This is emphatically not a gift item for anyone other than those already familiar with and devoted to the music of the prolific Boston-based composer. Kramer does not hesitate to work in the most traditional of classical forms: the collection’s title is that of his Symphony No. 1 (2008), which is included as the longest work here. But he is equally comfortable in electronic and chamber music and in works constructed along modern (and very eclectic) lines, such as In Double Quadruplicate (2010) and Cathartic (also 2010), the latter including five movements labeled either “Dichotomy” or “Trichotomy.” The shortest and most recent work on the CD set, Amalgam (2011), is actually less of an amalgam than several of the other pieces. It is difficult to generalize about Kramer’s music, which comes in a variety of forms and draws on a variety of traditions. Kramer seems less to be seeking a style of his own than exploring a wide variety of styles that already exist: his works are not outstandingly original, and there is nothing on these CDs that will likely make a listener sit up and say, “Only Keith Kramer could have written that.” Everything here is well put together, but nothing comes across as music that listeners (again, excepting strong advocates of Kramer’s works) will want to hear again and again – making it difficult to understand why this particular composer was thought to merit a 140-minute, two-CD release.