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Stanley WALDEN (b. 1932)
Maquettes for two pianos (2001) [13:39]
Sh’mah - duo for violin and cello (2002) [11:37]
Five Similes for piano (1989) [9:35]
Trio for horn, violin and piano (2003) [19:02]
Spectrum Concerts Berlin (Ya-Faei Chuang (piano); Robert Levin (piano); Julia-Maria Kretz (violin); Jens Peter Maintz (cello); Bernhard Krug (horn)) Frank Dodge, founder and artistic director
rec. Kammermusiksaal Philharmonie, Berlin, March 2007 (Maquettes, Five Similes); Grosser Sendersaal of RBB, January 2008 (remainder)
NAXOS 8.559355 [53:52]

 

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Stanley Walden studied composition with Ben Weber and was a clarinettist for a number of years with the New York Philharmonic and the Met orchestra. He has taught widely – at Juilliard and Eastman amongst others – and has long been active in musical theatre. A versatile man he’s worked as an actor and theatre director and has written film scores as well. He wrote the musical Oh! Calcutta amongst much else.

Maquettes have been in the news recently. A maquette of Antony Gormley’s vast sculpture of The Angel of the North has been conservatively estimated at over £1m. Walden’s musically descriptive quintet of maquettes is far less imposing. The opening Fanfare is an arrestingly dissonant call to arms. The composer’s own written notes are remarkably terse in places; he writes, very much to the point, that the second in the sequence, called Song, ‘is about solo and accompaniment’. The third, Texture, feasts on the potential for colour whilst the fourth is jazz influenced. The vital, vibrant Latin-American feel of the finale is explained by virtue of its having been written for Chucho Valdes, a Cuban pianist and composer.

Sh’mah – duo for violin and cello was written in 2002. This is largely based on three traditional Jewish sources though they don’t become – or at least don’t seem to become – obvious until the last section. Much of the writing is strenuous, and Walden inflects pitch for expressive uses. That keeningly allusive Jewish element makes a sure statement.  Five Similes for piano (1989) is by some way the oldest work to be recorded. They are in essence memorial pieces - brief but not epigrammatic, deft but not obscure. They don’t all adopt quiescent and contemplative states; on the contrary, they seem to summon up personality traits unconstrained by the expected memorials of death. One in particular, Like bullets, is loquacious and at times quite strident – whereas Like a smile, the last, is reflective and employs more impressionist hues.

The Trio for the Brahmsian combination of horn, violin and piano is quite a big work cast in four movements. Pitch twisting still features in Walden’s vocabulary, as does relatively stark, terse, tense material – especially in the second movement where we also find a chorale-like theme for piano and violin slowly emerging. A neo-baroque figure emerges on the piano and there’s a slight Britten Lachrymae feel to its gradual unravelling. The scherzo is a ‘salsa and trio’ – good fun though not too much so. Walden is on record as having said that this work was written ‘out of a controlled sadness and rage at the events of September 11, 2001.’ It’s in the finale that this seems most appropriate – a Battaglia of bruisingly wide-ranging emotions, from the stentorian to single lines, ruminative and disbelieving.

We have some first class, sensitively authoritative performances here. Walden’s music is never obvious and can be subtly withdrawn.

Jonathan Woolf 

 





 


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