The present release samples Larry Bell’s music for
cello, and a very contrasted body of works it is too, of which the earliest
is Caprice Op.12 (1978). This is actually the first of
a series of similarly titled pieces for solo instruments. This is a
freely constructed fantasy based on several basic elements continually
transformed, separated or combined in many ways. This is a brilliant
piece of musical display exploiting the many characteristics of the
instruments, though never extravagantly so. A really fine work that
cellists should happily add to their repertoire.
Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn Op.17 (1983/4)
is for the somewhat rarer combination of viola and cello. It falls into
two parts of fairly equal length in which counterpoint is paramount.
The music is strictly organised and tightly argued. Any less modest
composer would have called this piece a sonata, which this impressive
piece really is.
River of Ponds Op.25 dates from 1986.
The title is drawn from a series of paintings called River of Ponds
by Frank Stella, one of which aptly adorns the cover of this release.
The composer mentions that the titles of the three movements of the
piece refer to his childhood in North Carolina. Black Creek is
based on a folk-like, though original melody. The second movement Wyatt
Earp’s Pond (a nickname given to a fishing hole near where the composer
grew up) is actually a Scherzo with two trios, the latter quoting a
hymn tune. The concluding Silver Lake is some sort of varied
Rondo partly based on material from the first movement. A substantial
piece of tuneful, warmly lyrical cello writing with a hint of Americana
sometimes calling Copland to mind.
The last work is a melodrama for narrator, cello and
piano based on Poe’s tale The Black Cat which the composer quite
efficiently adapted from the original, leaving out many of the asides
and thus tightening the narration. The cello represents the cat whose
‘meow’ is aptly stylised by a glissando, whereas the piano represents
the narrator and sets the scene of the various episodes of the story.
A superbly written and highly entertaining piece well worth a hearing.
Larry Bell’s music is contemporary, though very tuneful
and warmly lyrical, and – above all – very accessible. Eric Bartlett
who enjoys a long association with Bell’s music is a dedicated performer
in these fine works, and the composer is obviously also a very fine
pianist. A very fine, enjoyable release on all counts.