December 31, 2020


Cello 360. Christian-Pierre La Marca, cello. Naïve. $16.99.

Victoria Bond: Voices of Air; Jennifer Higdon: Legacy; Kevin Cerovich: Lawrence—In Memory of Lawrence Leathers; Raymond Premru: Felicity, from Two Pieces for Three Trombones; Brian E. Lynn: Ba-Dee-Doo-Dup; Norman Bolter: Ancient Twinkle Appearing; Paul Rudy: Awaken! JoDee Davis and Devin Bennett, trombones; Daniel Marion, bass trombone; Dan Velicer, piano. Albany Records. $16.99.

     There are some CDs whose main reason for being seems not to be the music—instead, the center of attention is the performer or performers, the intent being to showcase an individual, or several, who are especially skilled with their instruments, have especially interesting or unusual ideas about music, or something similar. These discs tend to have self-imposed limitations, since the musical selections reflect the individual (read: sometimes quirky) concepts of the performers and since the purpose of the recordings is to shine the spotlight on a specific person or group. Listeners not already enamored of that person or group may be less than enthralled – certainly it is not the musical itself that will draw them in. One entirely typical example of this sort of release is Cello 360, a Naïve recording that features Christian-Pierre La Marca playing 16 works of very varied provenance, some dating as far back as the early 17th century, others created in the 21st. There is no particular rhyme or reason to the sequence of material, and no special purpose for including two works by Marin Marais (1656-1728) while every other composer is represented by only one. The purpose of the disc is to highlight La Marca’s many musical interests and to offer snippets of his performance abilities in multiple forms. He proves to be a very fine cellist with a strictly modern orientation: even in Baroque music, he plays with strong emotion and plenty of vibrato, using a thoroughly modern cello. This only cements the concept of the CD as a reflection of the performer and a treat for his fans – but not a disc to consider on the basis of the music it includes. The first works offered here are older: one each by Jean de Sainte-Colombe (ca. 1640-1700) and John Dowland (1563-1626) – his familiar Lachrimae Antiquae – followed by the first of two from Marais, and then a work by Rameau (1683-1764). After those pieces from more or less the same time period, La Marca does a good deal of temporal jumping around. He moves to Le Chant des Oiseaux by Pablo Casals (1876-1973), then works by Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013), Henry Purcell (1659-1695), György Ligeti (1923-2006), another by Marais, then ones by Telemann (1681-1767), Thierry Escaich (born 1965), Grieg (1843-1907), Giovanni Sollima (born 1962), Charles Chaplin (1889-1977), Lennon and McCartney, and finally something from La Marca himself. This mishmash of material is obviously aimed at letting listeners hear how adept La Marca is in music of all types from eras of all sorts; and it does that, to a certain extent – but at the expense of any depth whatsoever. La Marca certainly pulls considerable expressive potential from his cello – and that serves him very well in works such as Sollima’s Lamentatio, a highlight of the disc. His handling of newer music (including Ligeti’s Sonate pour Violoncello Seul) and works from more-popular idioms is assured and emotionally communicative. However, he is much less effective in the works of Dowland (whose tears should not flow this copiously), Rameau, Marais and Purcell: La Marca tends to overplay the music, trying to pull greater intensity from it than the composers included. The sensitivity that La Marca brings to the love theme from Chaplin’s Modern Times is ill-fitting when applied to Rameau and Telemann, and even in some modern works, such as the Lennon-McCartney Yesterday, La Marca simply pushes the music toward greater intensity than it can really encompass. The playing here is excellent from a technical standpoint, but the disc is simply a celebration of La Marca – with, curiously, a paucity of material from the Romantic era, into which his style would seem to fit well. La Marca is not a subtle performer – as evidenced, for instance, by his handling of Grieg’s Solveig’s Song – but is something of a showoff, with fine technique applied in equal measure to very different short pieces that deserve more-thoughtful interpretations, ones more suitable to their individuality and the times in which they were written, than they receive here.

     The focus is not as intensely on the primary performer on a new Albany Records release of contemporary music for trombone – but JoDee Davis’ virtuosity and her skill with modern trombone works remain better reasons to consider owning this disc than do the works she plays on it, most of which are not especially distinguished. The CD opens with Voices of Air (2019) by Victoria Bond (born 1945), a four-movement trombone-and-piano offering that proceeds from Breath in the first movement to Breathless in the last. Bond takes the trombone through pretty much its entire range in a piece that is certainly a showcase for performers – Davis handles it with considerable skill – but that comes across more as a demonstration of techniques than an involving musical presentation. Next is Legacy (2017) by Jennifer Higdon (born 1962), another trombone-and-piano piece. This is a slow and stately work that recalls the onetime use of trombones in church music, and Higdon shows impressive command of the trombone’s expressive potential. Next on the disc is a solo-trombone work from 2019, Lawrence—In Memory of Lawrence Leathers, by Kevin Cerovich (born 1985). Its three movements last about as long as Higdon’s single one, but they are less assured and involving – as if they have personal meaning for the composer that is never fully communicated to listeners who did not know the person being memorialized. There follow three works for three trombones, in which Davis is joined by Devin Bennett and Daniel Marion. Felicity, from Two Pieces for Three Trombones dates to 1965. Composed by Raymond Premru (1934-1998), it is a brief, tonal work in which the three instruments are treated as equals, producing a pleasant chorale-like effect. Ba-Dee-Doo-Dup (1977) by Brian E. Lynn (born 1954) is a very light, mostly upbeat four-movement work with strong jazz/pop inflections that sound surprisingly good in trombone-trio form. The one-minute second movement, Waltz, is genuinely humorous without sounding parodistic, while the final two-minute March is brightly effective and only slightly reminiscent of Sousa. After this comes a very different sort of work, Ancient Twinkle Appearing (1997) by Norman Bolter (born 1955). This is mostly quiet and rather hesitant music with some unexpected “waa-waa” effects. The final piece on the CD refocuses attention entirely on Davis, being another work for trombone and piano. Written by Paul Rudy (born 1962) and dating to 2018, it is called Awaken! It is the longest work on the disc, at 13 minutes being longer even than those containing three or four movements; and it does not really sustain very well. It does give Davis plenty of chances to emote through the trombone, and certainly it has enough virtuosic elements to make it a piece of interest to other trombone players. But it does not reach out very effectively to a more-general audience. The CD as a whole comes across as a fine showcase for Davis, but a disc without much staying power on the basis of the music rather than the performances. Lynn’s Ba-Dee-Doo-Dup is more enjoyable than the other works and shows more cleverness in composition and more distinctiveness in style. But the CD is ultimately more about the performers – specifically Davis as the primary trombonist – than it is about what is performed.

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