October 11, 2012
(+++) MULTIPLE MODERN MEANDERINGS
Paradigms: Music of Warren Gooch, Rain Worthington, Howard Quilling, Allen Brings, Paula Diehl and Joseph Koykkar. Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Petr Vronský; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Black. Navona. $15.99.
Andy Malloy: Paper Clips—trombone music by Adrienne Albert, Gernot Wolfgang, John Steinmetz, Steven J. Williams, Stephen Yip, Jason Barabba, and Nick Lane. Andrew Malloy, trombone; Karolina Rojahn, piano. Navona. $20.99 (2 CDs).
Kim Halliday: Birdsong in Mist and other works. Ravello. $12.99.
Mark Vigil: Trios for Flute, Viola & Harp; Trio for Violin, B-flat Clarinet and Piano; Fantasies Nos. 1 and 2 for Piano; Mariposa Tulip; Elizabeth; In Expression. Ravello. $16.99.
Hans Bakker and Howard Richards: Choral Music. Kühn Choir conducted by Marek Vorlíček. Navona. $14.99.
These CDs provide multiple opportunities to experience 20th- and 21st-century composers’ attitudes toward instrumentation, classical forms, vocal expression, chamber works and nontraditional influences. An anthology such as Paradigms contains its own inevitable limitations: six works by six composers in a variety of different forms, performed by two different orchestras under two conductors. Listeners unfamiliar with at least one of the composers here will not likely be attracted to the disc, although it certainly has interesting elements. Allen Brings’ Concertino for Oboe and Orchestra, nicely played by oboist Vilém Veverka, is a high point of the CD and the most classically poised of the six pieces on the disc, although its sound is scarcely traditional. This is one of the four pieces performed by the Moravian Philharmonic, the others being Of Time Remembered by Rain Worthington, Diversion by Howard Quilling and Meeting Places by Paula Diehl. The Slovak Radio Symphony offers Clockwork by Warren Gooch and Composite by Joseph Koykkar. In a sense, all the pieces except Brings’ are composites, pulling together a variety of harmonic and rhythmic elements for expressions ranging from the lyrical to the acerbic. The works have little in common except for being well-crafted; the CD will primarily interest devotees of modern classical music who want to expand their horizons a bit further.
The seven pieces for trombone and piano that Andrew Malloy performs with pianist Karolina Rojahn expand musical thinking in different ways. The trombone has rarely been of central interest in classical music – Rimsky-Korsakov’s concerto stands out for its rarity – and modern composers have not given it much more attention than did earlier ones. But like other long-neglected instruments with solo potential, such as the viola, the trombone may finally be starting to come into its own. The pieces by Adrienne Albert (Wind Tides), Gernot Wolfgang (Leaps and Bounds), John Steinmetz (Fourteen Prayers), Steven J. Williams (Three Favorite Poems), Stephen Yip (Sunflower), Jason Barabba (Speculation), and Nick Lane (Hoi Polloi) all treat the trombone as an instrument capable of a wide range of expressions and expressiveness, and several of the works demand considerable virtuosity, which Malloy supplies quite ably. Wolfgang’s piece, which runs 16 minutes, goes on a bit too long for the material, but the sustained works by Albert and Yip both show that the trombone sound can retain interest over a moderate length. The Steinmetz, Williams, Barabba and Lane pieces are collections of short movements, and in them the instrument really shines, with Lane’s piece providing four often-humorous dance movements that showcase a lighter side that listeners may not realize the trombone possesses. The trombone-and-piano combination wears thin after a while: listeners who select one or two of these pieces to hear at a time will find more to enjoy in them than those who listen to the two-CD set from start to finish.
The impressionistic music of Kim Halliday tends to wear a bit thin on only a single CD, because its minimalist approach and overall gentleness blend into the background rather too easily – which may not be surprising, since Halliday has done a good deal of composition for films, in which music supports the story rather than taking center stage. The 15 pieces on the new Halliday CD are of roughly similar length – from two to five-and-a-half minutes – and have similar jazz influences and emotional underpinnings. The titles are intended to be evocative: “Birdsong in Mist,” “Pattern Recognition,” “November Falling Fast,” “Seashore,” “Silver,” “Whirlygig,” and so forth. But most titles could go equally well with other pieces, given the similarities of instrumentation and musical evocation. The piano generally dominates here, but this is a soothing rather than dramatic piano, leading listeners on an emotional trajectory that can be appealing once or a few times but is a bit much to go through in 15 works. The CD may actually work better as background music than as a disc to listen to with close attentiveness.
Mark Vigil’s music, in contrast, does repay careful attention, although it too is generally emotionally evocative rather than formally poised or traditionally structured. The Trio for Violin, B-flat Clarinet and Piano is the most classically proportioned work here, although even it has a certain emotional similarity in all three movements, two of which are marked dolce and one of which is designated fluid. The two flute-viola-harp trios have more-interesting sonorities and similar nature-focused approaches. One is a single movement with the rather unwieldy title, “An Autobiography of a Traveler – Can You Hear the Voice of the Roses?” The other is more or less in theme-and-variations form and is called “Dew Drop Dares to Play with the Light of the Sun.” The titles are somewhat overdone, especially given Leonard Bernstein’s famous dictum that music does not mean anything. But the works are pleasant enough, their gentle sounds evoking the natural world much as the gamelan ensemble does in Mariposa Tulip, which bears the (again, rather overdone) subtitle, “Of the Genus Calachortus Lutens.” Three short works for solo piano – Fantasy #1, Fantasy #2 and Elizabeth – are more modest in scale and more forthright in expression. Speaking of which, In Expression, a work for women’s chorus, gamelan orchestra and two flutes, is in some ways the most interesting piece on the CD, with Vigil skillfully interweaving the voices into the textures of the instruments in a subtle and convincing way.
There are subtleties and conviction in the choral works of Hans Bakker (born 1945) and Howard Richards (1927-2010) as well. Five religiously themed pieces by Bakker and seven more-secular ones by Richards make this an interestingly contrasted CD, with Bakker’s texts coming from the Latin Mass, the Bible and Dante, among others, while those used by Richards are intriguingly drawn from James Joyce and Kahlil Gibran. The underlying connection among all the works is the search for enlightenment, and the impression left by the disc is that there are many paths to it – although there is more certainty in Bakker’s pieces and a greater sense of the quest (and of nature as an integral part of the search) in the works by Richards. The Kühn Choir displays considerable fluidity and lucidity in interpreting all these pieces, and Marek Vorlíček leads the singers with unobtrusive skill. There is enough difference between the Bakker and Richards settings so that listening just to the Bakker tracks at one time, then just to the Richards ones at another, enhances the experience of the music: both composers evoke emotion and the experience of becoming (or trying to become) enlightened, but they do so in distinct and complementary ways.