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.