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Peter HOMANS
A Prague Spring:
Plié de Trois (2002) [17:16]; 4 Choruses (1995) [9:46]; Quintino (2006) [10:03]; A Prague Spring (1994) [12:31]
Dinosaur Annex: Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin (flute), Katherine Matasy (clarinet), Donald Berman (piano), Hugh Hinton (piano), Anne Black (viola), Michael Curry (cello) , Scott Wheeler (conductor) Cathrine Saunders (flute)
Silesian Radio Orchestra and Chorus/Jerzy Swoboda, Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vlad Valek
rec. 1995, Katowice, Poland; 2006-7, Boston & Prague. DDD.
MMC 2168 [49:50]
Experience Classicsonline

According to the sleeve-notes, Homans has had an interesting life so far, with pursuits ranging from composer to being Bernstein’s Assistant Business Manager and Music Assistant to running a financial company. He returned to composing at the age of forty, and this disc presents some of his works.
 
The disc opens with Plié de Trois, a three movement work for flute, viola and piano. The language is largely tonal with a twentieth century twist, and the instrumental combination works well. The viola provides a richly sonorous tone quality and is played well here by Anne Black. The opening movement has a driving pulse of repeated chords, over which staccato figures are played on the flute, to contrast lyrical gestures on the viola. This works well and gives direction to the music. The first movement’s central section takes on a more rhapsodic feel, with a subtle jazz influence adding to the dreamy qualities. This opening movement would make a complete work within itself, displaying all the necessary elements of a successful chamber piece within its six minute duration. I was less convinced by the second movement, which seemed to lose direction after the unison rhythmic opening. The third movement begins with sombre chords and dark harmonies, but I felt that the musical unity became lost, with too much variety of material to give any particular sense of identity.
 
The 4 Choruses are more musically convincing, opening with an exciting burst of energy. The orchestral lines compliment the choir well, and the balance is good. Homans makes use of the natural rhythm of the words to good effect, particularly in the second chorus, Thyme Flowering Among Rocks. The piece uses four texts by Richard Wilbur, which are combined into one continuous movement. This is imaginative choral writing, with a range of ideas contained within a single work. The texts are wordy, and hard to follow in a musical context; despite the changes of mood between each of the choruses, it is sometimes difficult to hear the words clearly and keep track with which of the choruses is being sung.
 
Quintino is, for me, by far the most interesting piece on the disc. It is also the most contemporary-sounding work, opening with dissonances and atmospheric gestures. There is an underlying beauty which aligns itself well with the use of harmony; the dissonances are used for their emotional power, and are juxtaposed against more romantic gestures to complete the musical language. The playing here is convincing, with some excellent contributions from all of the players.
 
The title track of the disc, A Prague Spring, is a 12 minute solo for flute and orchestra. I would be interested to discover more about the flute soloist, Cathrine Saunders; an internet search provided nothing of any particular interest. According to her biography, she was ‘already a professor at the Royal College of Music’ at the age of 21. I’m surprised not to have heard of her previously; if this is the case she must have been the youngest flute professor they ever had – an accolade I had previously attributed to Graham Mayger, who became a flute professor there at the age of 24. With such an impressive CV, I expected much of her playing. The sound was rich and sonorous, although it seemed to me that it was unclear around the edges - I’d like the opportunity to hear her play live to find out whether this was to do with microphone positioning. Overall, she plays well, with expression and understanding, but to me, at least, it was good, rather than world-class. This is a serene, calm piece, written to symbolise the emergence of hope in the face of political uprisings. There are some well played solos from the oboe - particularly the magical entry after the flute cadenza - and the drifty flute line is supported by some well orchestrated and atmospheric orchestral sounds.
 
Carla Rees
 

 


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