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Paul MORAVEC (b.1957)
The Time Gallery (2000) [42:15]
Protean Fantasy (1993) [9:33]
Ariel Fantasy (2002) [4:17]
eighth blackbird (The Time Gallery)
Peter Sheppard – Skærved (violin)
Aaron Shorr (piano).
rec. Studio 4, Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, Illinois, 23-24 November 2002 (The Time Gallery), and Potton Hall, Suffolk, 2-3 December 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.559267 [56:06]

Something which really, really annoys me is shops which put big notices ‘SALE’, or ‘SPECIAL OFFER’, and when you look, it’s just budget price CDs being sold at their standard price. Nobody is fooled by this; it just switches me off from looking for new gems from the likes of Naxos. Having said that, I’m not sure I would have picked Paul Moravec out as being on my ‘must have’ list, which, clattering through the jewel cases at sprint speed as usual, would have been a big loss.

Moravec is essentially a romantic composer – by which I do not mean that his work is dripping with sentimentality, more that his language is intuitive, unafraid of the past, and programmatic rather than polluted with artificial intellectualism. Having won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music and with a substantial catalogue to his name already, his future as a composer of substance would seem to be assured.

The Time Gallery is chamber music on an impressive scale. In four movements, the first, Bells, describes a day marked out by the chimes of medieval Benedictine monasteries. Atmospheric meditation develops through some interesting counterpoint over a ground bass toward more rhapsodic writing. There is considerable virtuosity asked of the musicians, with instrumental filigrees winding around sometimes chorale-like harmonic movement which made a few other composers names pop into my mind – only momentarily, but there are one or two Nyman or Adams-esque progressions, and later on in the piece there is a distinctly Frank Martin feel to some of the resolutions. The music is in no way derivative, but if you like these kinds of tonal idiom, then the chances are you will love this to bits. The second movement, Time Machine, starts predictably with ticking clocks, but the music is dramatic – pulse driven, but with shifting accents and constantly mobile mini-ostinati which are in reality melodic fragments pushing the while thing along at pace. The movement describes the development of clocks and temporal philosophy through time, including a B.A.C.H. reference which rolls gently along underneath the Pendulum second section of the movement. eighth blackbird’s six performers prove themselves equal to the muscular demands of this music at every turn, and the playing is first rate.

The hoorspel theatrical feel of each movement’s opening is continued with an actual heartbeat at the beginning of Pulse: The Feeling of What Happens. Some Martinůesque piano writing pops out in this punchily rhythmic movement. The fourth and final movement is called Overtime: Memory Sings, and here the principal themes return and are summed up. There are some almost Ivesean moments in this ‘meta-temporal imagination of an ideal mind remembering the previous movements’, but this is well though-through and beautifully crafted music. The apotheosis is Copland, Martinu, Martin, all rolled into a mix which takes on its own character. I can hear Peter Sallis’s voice calling in from the next room; ‘cracking CD, Gromit!’

The ‘fillers’ are also repertoire-busting additions to the catalogue. Protean Fantasy opens with a lyrical phrase, which is treated in a set of variations. Moravec’s energetic style is well represented both here and in Ariel Fantasy, which is the prototype for the first movement of his prize winning Tempest Fantasy. These are pieces which I am sure will soon be cropping up regularly on more adventurous concert and exam programmes in years to come.

So, with superb playing, an excellent recording and some inspirational new music I suggest, dear reader, you unearth your bus pass or your bicycle clips and head for the nearest classical CD outlet. You might mention to the shopkeeper that the admittedly low price is in fact FULL price for that label, and not a ‘Special Offer’, and then compliment him on his foresight at stocking such an excellent release.

Dominy Clements



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