Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Arnold ROSNER (1945-)
Of Numbers and of Bells (1983)
Horn Sonata (1979)
Cello Sonata No. 1 (1968 rev 1977)
Nightstone - Three Setting from The Song of Songs (1979)
Timothy Hester and Nancy Weems (pianos)
Heidi Garson (horn); Yolanda Liepa (piano)
Maxine Neuman (cello); Joan Stein (piano)
Randolph Lacy (ten); Timothy Hester (piano)
ALBANY TROY 163 [67.13]

More Rosner, I am pleased to say.

Rosner is an American composer who has written extensively and has had his works performed in the USA, Europe and Israel. He avoids atonalism and instead treads a modal ethnic path redolent of Hovhaness and Bloch with greater simplicity than the former and greater lyrical address than the latter.

Of Numbers And Of Bells: This is for two pianos which scatter a gentle clean rain of notes. Liquidly running figures touched with bell tones dance and toll in every range from high soprano to the most profundo of bassos. Think in terms of Debussy's Cloches, of the bell-resounding splendour of the Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux, of John Foulds' Essays in the Modes and of the early Alan Hovhaness. Simplicity is Rosner's 'touchstone' but not simple-mindedness. Brave the composer who will hold his invention up to the light without shade or the overlay of complexity and harmonic density. Rosner is such a composer.

The Horn Sonata is remarkable for the degree to which two such different instruments are integrated. This also speaks of the soloists' dedication in a performance that is no run-through and which is very sensitive to dynamic controls. The horn part strains at the bounds of technique without being a circus act. I thought of the high natural harmonics on display in Britten's Serenade. A quick central allegro is supported by two slower movements. The liquid clarity of the Of Numbers and of Bells is to be heard in the piano part. The outer lento and andante are less concerned with the endless piano dance and more with the horn as singer. The song is coloured and textured by middle-eastern modality. Rosner is frequently bracketed with Hovhaness but he is less elaborate than Hovhaness.

In both the Horn Sonata and the Cello Sonata there are three movements which adopt the slow-fast-slow pattern which also typefies the Delius and Moeran violin concertos. The cello work has that dignified dip and turn of phrase which I associate with the prayerful rhapsodies of Ernest Bloch but with a more candid approach to singing themes. The soloist seems troubled by unwelcome visions and sings as if to ward them off in melancholy desperation as well as in celebration. The solo piano line (as so often with Rosner) is touched with the echoes and decay of bell tones - think also in terms of the tranced bell sounds from Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge with its shimmeringly portrayed 'coloured counties'. The clangorous central fuga barbaro is less interesting than its partners and it comes as no surprise that it has been extensively revised with its neighbours left intact. The level of inspiration seems to flicker and fade here in a way that is absent from the hymnals and prayers of the adagio and moderato. I wonder whether what Rosner secretly wanted to do was to write three slow toned contemplative movements. This is a fine work to be counted with the horn sonata but it might well have convinced with ineluctable force if the central movement had been of a piece with its companions.

The sound of the two sonatas is understandably a shade cloudier than the two piano work and the song sequence. The piano role has that modal sound we now recognise as Rosner's with its blend of Hovhaness, Bach and bells. In Nightstone Ralph Lacy is healthy and steady of voice (listen to the way he sustains the word figs at 2.58 in track 8). The words are not provided in the booklet but you can hear every one of them. RVW's voice returns in echo in the sung words 'with me from Lebanon' paralleling VW's 'From Far from Even and Morning'. The Serenade has a typically bell-dancing piano line around which the tenor weaves his erotic word painting. I suspect that a major work based on The Song Of Songs is lurking known or subliminal in Rosner's conscious or unconscious. I hope that it emerges fully flowered for, going by this evidence, it will be a major addition to the repertoire.

The two sonatas are analogue originals first issued on an Opus One Records LP. Of Numbers and Nightstone are fully DDD.

Rob Barnett

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