> Music From Six Continents 2001 Series [GH]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Music From Six Continents 2001 Series
Alan BRINGS (b. USA1934) Scherzi musicale;
Betty BEATH (b. Australia 1932) Woman’s Song for Strings;
Sonja GROSSNER (b. UK 1942) From Dark to Light
Moravian Philharmonic conducted by Toshiyuki Shimada
Maximilian KREUZ (b. Austria 1953) Mouvement symphonique No.3
Vienna Chamber Orchestra conducted by Alexander Liebreich
Tsippi FLEISCHER (b. Israel 1946) Symphony No.4 A Moving Shadow
Eyal Sela, folk winds and Yinon Muallem, folk percussion
Members of the Prague Philharmonic conducted by Jiri Mikula
Recording details not available

This disc is in many ways more successful than others in the series. By only including five (well contrasted) composers VMM allow at least two of them a chance to ‘spread themselves’ including a work the composer called ‘Symphony’. At well over 20 minutes it is the longest piece on the disc.

The booklet has photographs of each composer and they are also allowed to write about their own music. I never think that this is a good idea and I speak as one who has had to do it himself. Moral: always try to get someone to write about you. (I would also add try to get someone else to perform or conduct your music). When Maximilian Kreuz writes in the third person "the composer has concerned himself with a new kind of chromatic tonality, which in this piece determines the harmonic language" I wonder why he didn’t write it in the first person. Is it because he goes on to tell us "creation of this work was supported by the City of Vienna", an attempt to place himself outside the intimate and into the public arena. Despite his rambling description this is the most successful piece on the CD. Possibly it falls under the shadow of his fellow Austrian, the late Gottfried von Einem (b.1918) but it is none the worse for that. Its six movements evolve logically and with intensity.

The rest of the disc, I cannot get too excited about.

Allen Brings’ title might remind you of Monteverdi’s delightful ‘Scherzi musicale’. Well this boisterous piece is in the tradition of an orchestral scherzo; certainly a difficult form. The mood of this piece is too serious and heavy-handed. Brings has a very impressive CV as composer, author, academic and performer but this work does not make me particularly want to search him out again.

Sonja Grossner has just completed a Ph.D. in composition at Birmingham University after working in other musical areas. I was at first put off by the title - so many pieces explore the theme of a journey from darkness to light. The opening, with timpani, bells, a harp glissando and swirling string lines, is certainly effective. Where it falls short is its failure to convey a sense of darkness. In its place we gain a sense of uncoordinated striving. There is some impressive writing for the orchestra, especially in the faster second section, but the music lacks focus and direction.

Placing Betty Beath’s very brief ‘Woman’s Song’ in the middle of the CD makes even less sense when you realize that it "was conceived as a companion piece to my Lament for Kosovo", recorded on VMM 3052. It would surely have been preferable, especially as this CD has enough space left on it, to have put the two together. It is a tuneful and wistful little piece, but too short, at two and a half minutes, to stand-alone.

As for Tsippi Fleischer’s (born in Haifa) Fourth Symphony, it is deliberately in an oriental style. It incorporates, alongside a full size orchestra, some Jewish instruments. These play a major part throughout. This is not a new idea but it is certainly a difficult one to bring off. The opening melody winds it way around the strings punctuated by the wind-blown sounds of the folk instruments including the Indian ‘bansuri’ and the Nigerian ‘udu’. The structure could be described as a fantasy in no conventional form. I suppose then I shouldn’t have been surprised by the last minute of the work when, for the only time, there is a new texture: a strong unison passage for the folk instruments, strings and percussion. This accelerates and suddenly ends just when a climax point seemed to be coming. One needs a different pair of ears for music like this. The nearest I had come to this before was ‘Hallel’ by another Israeli composer Ben Zion (Music in Israel M11 CD 14) - well worth investigating. On repeated hearings Fleischer’s Symphony proved increasingly interesting and the twenty-three minutes of its duration did not drag.

So, once again a mixture of styles and compositional originality and expertise. The whole series on Vienna Modern Masters continues to be very enterprising and I hope that it develops, but perhaps with a little more care in the choice of repertoire.

Gary Higginson

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