> Music from Six Continents 1999 [GH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Vienna Modern Masters

Music From Six Continents: 1999 Series
Jeremy BECK (b.1960) Spark and Flames (Ash)
Stephen TAYLOR (1965) Unapproachable Light
Jeffrey JACOB (b.1948) The Carol of the Bells
Bernard SCHERR (1963) Victimae Paschali Laudes
Margaret Vardell SANDRESKY (b.1921) Song of the Nomad Flute;
Theldon MYERS (b.1927) Fanfare for a New Millennium;
Philip SCHROEDER (b.1956) Fantasy for Clarinet and Orchestra
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Toshiyuki Shimada
Recorded in the Czech Republic in June 1999


To begin, it might help if I quote the back page of the insert booklet. This CD is one of a series in which "Vienna Modern Masters is a non-profit making American company which produces internationally and distributes compact discs of contemporary music". All excellently laudable. And to a certain extent I feel, with my own composer’s hat on, that one should have a slightly different level of criticism when confronted with a disc such as this. But no, you will be glad to learn.

I am not sure how easy this recording will be to obtain and if discovered on a shelf whether seven unknown names would attract many. It’s a not uncommon problem. Would it be better to concentrate on one composer at a time? After all some of these pieces are short and fail to make a mark for its composer. Biographies of each are supplied and very impressively they read as well. These are all American composers who will be unknown to most of us.

Myers’ ‘Fanfare’ is overcrowded with melodies and ideas but is all over in less than three minutes. I was not taken with it. Perhaps however if I could have also heard his Symphony of 1969 on the same disc instead of on another which I don’t have (VMM 3019), then I might feel a little better disposed. So to start with I have to say that the concept of this series does not seem to be as helpful as it could be. Yet perhaps sales are slightly increased as a result of seven composers being represented. And another point. Have I missed something? How do the six continents fit in here?

Unfortunately the disc opens with a weak piece: Jeremy Beck’s Overture ‘Sparks and Flames’. The concept of ideas splintering off other simpler ones announced at the opening is interesting but one is left at the end of just over four minutes feeling as if the piece had only just formed. Two minutes longer and perhaps the work might have felt more satisfying.

Stephen Taylor’s ‘Unapproachable Light’, is, for me, the pick of the disc with its off-stage trumpets and whirling polyphony. Basically polytonal it sets up a concept and works it through to its natural climax. Equally enjoyable and quite original was Jeffrey Jacob’s ‘Carol of the Bells’. It has a most arresting opening - deep piano notes with bass drum followed by chiming bells and a ringing, angular melody in compound time. A contrasting idea in lower strings is then developed fugally. These differing elements meet together later.

The form of a choral prelude is not dead although orchestral examples are rare. Bernard Scherr almost conjures up an organ sound at the start of his ‘Victimae Paschali’, which forms part of a panel of orchestral pieces using plainchant. The ingenious ways in which the composer uses the theme constantly attracts the attention, although the orchestration is unexceptional.

Of a gentler nature is the mesmeric ‘Song of a Nomad Flute’ by the most senior composer represented: Margaret Sandresky. Beginning with a lengthy cadenza for flute it winds into almost a French type improvisation in exotic colours. The flautist is the elegantly toned Petr Hladik.

The Myers Fanfare comes next and the disc ends with a rather dull or overly long ‘Fantasy for Clarinet and Orchestra’ by Philip Schroeder. This is the longest piece on the disc. It seems to be too long for its material. It was especially written for the beautifully toned Tamara Raatz.

The playing of the Moravian Orchestra is adequate and probably pleased the composers at the time but the tone seems thinly recorded in the brighter passages and some passages, especially in Taylor piece, are under-prepared and badly balanced.

If this project interests you, and there is much here that is enjoyable and of value, then watch this space as I have more VMM discs to review in the near future.

Gary Higginson

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