Contemporary classical music has been in retreat in
the US for decades. With the exception of the iconoclast Elliot Carter,
there seems to be very little of any complexity emerging from contemporary
American composers. This is not to say that there is nothing good coming
from the US – the expressionist John Adams, the quirky Michael Daugherty
and the pioneering Steve Reich are producing worthwhile music. The problem
appears to be the wash of less talented composers who are gaining prominence
because they can be relied upon not to frighten the horses. The lack
of variety impoverishes the scene, and the value cannot be replaced
by frankly boring composers like Tobias Picker, Michael Torke, or on
the evidence of this disc, Claus Ogermann.
Ogermann is German by birth and education, but has
been based in the States for over 40 years, and has built his career
there as a jazz composer, performer and arranger. This disc seems very
much a promotional tool to make that career more "serious".
The booklet contains several pictures of Ogermann posing thoughtfully
and some sycophantic notes attempting to build his stature into that
of a 'Great Composer'. Unfortunately it is not a claim that can be justified
by the works here or the performances.
The orchestral playing is inauspicious throughout.
The National Philharmonic is, I suspect, a session orchestra cobbled
together for the recording. The standard is middling – the string tone
is thin, especially in slow passages – and I suspect that some serious
knob twiddling has been done to fill out the sound. The conducting,
by Ogermann himself, does not seem to provide any direction or focus
any musical thoughts.
As regards the works themselves, the piano concerto
is much the finer of the two works on this disc. It is in a serialist,
Reich-ish vein, and has a sparkling opening and the irregular length
of the repeated phrase is moderately interesting. The concerto never
really lets rip, although it is pleasant enough and the performance
by Ogermann is clear and sprightly.
The Concerto for Orchestra is another matter altogether.
Almost supernaturally boring, it is a pretentious work that meanders
aimlessly, generating no harmonic tension, without a single decent landmark
to enliven the discourse. I can, unfortunately, think of no redeeming
features that would justify recording it and cannot recommend it.