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Decca Phase 4
A Prague Spring:
Plié de Trois (2002) [17:16]; 4
Choruses (1995) [9:46]; Quintino (2006) [10:03]; A
Prague Spring (1994) [12:31]
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
and Chorus/Jerzy Swoboda, Czech Radio Symphony
rec. 1995, Katowice, Poland; 2006-7, Boston
& Prague. DDD.
MMC 2168 [49:50]
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.
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