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Peter BLAUVELT (b. 1956)
Monuments: Music of Peter Blauvelt

"Monuments". Second Symphony (1996-97/1999-2000) [20.26]
Third Sonata for Cello and Piano "Terror and Reconciliation" (1993) [22.10]
First Symphony "In Two Movements" (1979-80) [29.35]
Theresa Vallani (cello)
Peter Blauvelt (piano)
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Joel Eric Suben (conductor)



My instant response to the opening of this disc (the second symphony) was its similarity to moments in Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. The comparison is short-lived, however, for Blauvelt soon establishes his own style, a fairly approachable one if not for those who hunger after melody or rhythmic excitement. The music is brooding and introspective, and it would have been interesting if it had also been recorded in its original format as a wind octet followed by its reworking for full orchestra two years later. What it badly needs is a freer, more resonant space for the orchestral textures, the acoustic (no recording venue or date is given) being far too dry, while much more variation in tempi (for example an extra scherzo movement) would ease the ear. Blauvelt’s music tends to work in instrumental family blocks at any one time, strings, winds or brass, and whatever the colour, there is a prevailing air of deep pessimism from start to finish.

The subtitle ‘Terror and Reconciliation’ given retrospectively to his third cello sonata hardly inspires expectations of a change of mood. It too was originally conceived for something else, in this instance the bassoon. With all due respect to that instrument, neither terror nor reconciliation are words which immediately spring to mind, but with the cello there is clearly more scope. Even so the words ‘terror and reconciliation’ appear to have been an afterthought and (to quote the sparsely informative booklet note) ‘came about as the piece, after its US premiere in 1993, was first performed in France at one of the concerts for the 50th anniversary of the British bombing of the port city of Le Havre in 1994’ (the premiere that is, not the bombing). The note acknowledges an affinity with the second symphony, and it is given an urgently impassioned account by cellist Theresa Villani accompanied by the composer at the piano in this live performance.

The sonata is among the best music on the disc, which ends chronologically inverted with his two-movement first symphony, submitted in 1980 as a doctoral dissertation and one suspects Stravinsky might have had an influence in places at this time. It may be a strange decision to present his music this way around, but one does hear elements of works to come two decades later. At times the intonation of the playing by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Joel Eric Suben leaves much to be desired, but they make a brave attempt at the faster passages six minutes into the first movement, and there are cruelly exposed string passages and effects four minutes later. Blauvelt takes no hostages to fortune when writing for the French horn right from the start of the disc to this first movement of the first symphony, a work which, at least to this reviewer, shows more imagination and engages the listener more than the second, if only because its instrumentation, including tubular bells in the finale, makes a greater impact. For a contemporary composer, percussion apart from timpani tends to play a lesser role, while on the other hand certain instruments such as the tuba, the double bassoon or solo violin among others are favoured. None of the works carries tempi indications, just Roman numerals for each movement, so there is no clue as to mood or speed. The disc needs more variety and relief, which is otherwise only apparent in the cheery smile and happy demeanour in the photograph of the composer on the back of the booklet.

Christopher Fifield

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