Kernis, despite being
amongst the least symphonically inclined of composers, has
two symphonies to his credit. The other was also recorded
by Argo and then pretty promptly deleted. Those Argo discs
have now been released from remainder-world, e-bay and second-user
purgatory by Phoenix. Mark Swedís 1991 liner notes have been
kept and we now have updated artist and composer profiles.
Kernis makes no secret
of regarding the symphony as Ďan outdated and irrelevant
formí but staring down its challenging gaze he has found
something to hold the heart, ear and mind. The First Symphony is
in five movements of which the first Continuous wave has
an irrepressible cell-iterative and bell-evocative drive
recalling Glass symphonies 2 and 3 and Nyman at his most
rhythmic and driven. The little scherzo is a thing of insect
noises and soloist lines that aggravate and fascinate. It
rises to a wild nodal point and fades brutally with the start
of a piano riff. Still movement (III) is at first
more harsh, unyielding and dismal. It recalls the symphonies
of William Schumanís 1960s and 1970s. When the clamour has
died away we enter a glistening Bergian world before oppression
and steely Gothickry returns only to fade down into exhaustion.
A silvery massed violin dance smilingly equates with similar
moments in Alan Hovhanessís symphonies.† Kernisís finale
plays with pointillism but locks itself into a sort of tensely
effervescent euphoria linking back to the Glass-Nyman atmosphere
of the first movement and adding a Beethovenian ecstasy.
Another form you may not
instantly associate with Kernis appears in his 1990 String
Quartet No. 1 written for the forces that recorded it
here. It was commissioned by the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation.
It is in four movements of which the first makes life-enhancing
play of his trademark ebullience cradled in a Ravelian skein.
The second movement sounds reverent and rapt Ė almost Finzi
(Introit) and Suk (St Wenceslas). It is the
movement that lends its name to the title of the quartet
as a whole: Musica Celestis. The superbly ear-trickling
little scherzo combines Russian dance with a Gaelic foot-tapper.
A jittery animated finale, chitters, stabs, accelerates,
riffs, fugues and generally sets the adrenaline running.
Another winner from Phoenix
and Kernis. Letís hope we soon hear more from this composer.
(USA sales only)
Other KERNIS CD Reviews on Musicweb
Before Sleep and Dreams
Symphony No. 2