Paul MORAVEC (b.
Tempest Fantasy* (2002): I. Ariel [4:16]; II.
Prospero [5:35]; III. Caliban [7:05]; IV.
Sweet Airs [4:57]; V. Fantasia [7:31]
Mood Swings (1999) [15:52]
B.A.S.S. Variations (1999) [11:32]
Scherzo (2002) [3:52]
(Maria Bachmann (violin); Alexis Pia Gerlach (cello); Jon
Klibonoff (piano)); David Krakauer (clarinet)*
rec. January 2002, October 2003. Recital Hall, Performing
Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York,
USA NAXOS AMERICAN
CLASSICS 8.559323 [60:40]
does Paul Moravec have in common with Charles Ives, Aaron
Copland, Virgil Thomson, Samuel Barber, Giancarlo Menotti,
Ned Rorem and John Corigliano? He now belongs to that
select club of Pulitzer-Prize-winning composers, courtesy
of his utterly delightful Tempest Fantasy.
play this and a selection of his other works we have Trio
Solisti, who premiered both Tempest Fantasy and Mood
Swings and commissioned Scherzo. They perform
regularly in the States and are resident at Adelphi College,
New York. The clarinet virtuoso David Krakauer, who I first
encountered on another American Classic (see
review), also combines teaching in the U.S. with performances
around the world.
Moravec’s Tempest Fantasy, which he describes in his
notes as ’a musical meditation on characters, moods and lines
from my favorite Shakespeare play’, is not clichéd faerie
music but has a muscularity and thrust that may surprise
you. For instance, in the first movement the sprite Ariel
is characterised by animated pizzicato writing, the scurrying
clarinet figures wittily evoking the antics of Prospero’s
mischievous little spy.
second in this ‘flight of musical fancy’, is altogether more
regal, with long instrumental lines and a firm, measured
piano beneath. There is a hint of magic, too, in the stranger
sonorities but by and large this is a thoroughly engaging
and memorable portrait of Shakespeare’s famous sorcerer.
third movement, Caliban, is much darker, exploiting
the pungent lower registers of the clarinet. Moravec imbues
this strange ‘mooncalf’ with a rare potency and power through
music of great vigour and variety. Sweet Airs is a
musical response to Caliban’s eloquent speech in Act III,
scene ii – ‘Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and
hurt not’. It is music full of poise and sophistication,
quite at odds with our image of this unruly creature, this ‘freckled
is difficult to place Moravec’s musical style; suffice to
say that it has a pleasing originality, notably in Fantasia.
A bit of a potpourri, this, it brims with lovely energetic
melodies. The playing and recording are exemplary. I’ve had
cause to grumble about the unnaturally close balance on some
Naxos discs but the engineers have got this one absolutely
right. From the quieter, more reflective moments to the whirling
finale of Fantasia the instruments have a natural
perspective that greatly enhances one’s enjoyment of this
explains that Mood Swings is an attempt ‘audibly [to]
present the workings of the central nervous system’. A curious
conceit, perhaps, and I wondered how Moravec would sustain
it for quarter of an hour. I needn’t have worried; the piece
has a coherence – it is essentially a theme and variations – that
helps to hold one’s interest from beginning to end; not to
mention the gentle, more elegiac moments in between the stormier
ones. I was particularly impressed by Jon Klibonoff’s sensitive
piano playing, which helps to underline and sustain the changing
moods so admirably.
Variations, like earlier musical acronyms D.S.C.H.
and B.A.C.H., are based on the German notation (in this
case B flat – A – E flat – E flat). Composed at the Bass
Garden Studios of the American Academy in Rome, the piece
is dedicated to Sid and Mercedes Bass. It’s not a flamboyant
work; indeed, at the outset it has a concentration, an
inwardness, that is most seductive. Alexis Pia Gerlach’s
secure, lyrical cello playing is worth commending, even
in the more animated episodes. But what a hauntingly beautiful
finale, a dying whisper almost.
very different from the jazzy, improvisatory Scherzo,
which Moravec describes as an ‘encore-type piece’. Klibonoff
really lets his hair down and Maria Bachmann’s violin playing,
full of vim and vigour, is just delicious.
tempted to add this disc to my shortlist of the year’s best
so far. Not only is the music captivating, it also has a
consistent energy and focus that is very impressive. Couple
this with a lovely, natural recording and playing of real
stature and you have a very special disc indeed.
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