Michael G Cunningham was born in Warren, Michigan, in 1937. He is a prolific composer and written well over
200 compositions in nearly every medium. He has taught at Universities
in Michigan, California, Kansas and Indiana and more than six of his short Theory and Composition
books are in print.
Having never heard of Cunningham before receiving this CD
I had absolutely no idea what to expect. As soon as the Concerto
started I was impressed with the transparent sonorities and
easy-going lyricism. All seemed to be going well until I realized
that I had stopped listening and had no idea what was happening
in the music. I started again and the same thing happened.
The rest of the CD had a similar impression on me. The music
appears to be serial and the overall sound is dour and, in
general, grey – there is very little colour here. Indeed,
it is incredibly stern, with insufficient light and shade.
There are also the occasional flashes of other composers –
most notably Alan Rawsthorne (the opening moments of Diaphony
could be from almost any Rawsthorne score) and Berg. I don’t
feel any real personality in any of the works, and because
of that I simply cannot engage with the music.
There are moments when I thought the music might take flight
– the opening of Venus and Adonis, for instance – but
it all suddenly falls flat. It seems as if the composer cannot
keep a fast moving idea going and the brakes must be applied
so that a slower tempo can carry the argument. Of course it’s
much harder to write fast music and keep it going for any
length of time because the harmonic progression needs to keep
changing in order for interest to be maintained in the forward
momentum. After much slow music Venus and Adonis gets
going, real allegro music, but just as quickly it is halted
by an abrupt chord and we’re back in the slow, quiet musings
and mutterings we’ve had for the majority of the piece. Then
it repeats the process.
There’s so little to grab the attention. There are no delightful
felicities of orchestration, or turns of phrase. No burst
of light to alleviate the continual greyness.
The composer seems
ambivalent and this seeming ambivalence crosses over into the
notes in the inlay. For instance, the Concerto is listed
as being written in 1994, but the note tells us it was written
in 1995, likewise the Diaphony is listed as 2003 but the
note claims the date of composition to be 1993. This is probably
slipshod editing. Also, and this is something which really bothers
me about many contemporary compositions, the Wakefield Autumn
is described as “…a pastoral idyll that attempts (my emphasis)
to portray the beauty of a small town…”. Well does it or doesn’t
it portray that small town? Has the composer so little idea of
what he has written that he doesn’t even know if he’s succeeded
in his intention? I feel cheated by this kind of attitude towards
the audience. It makes me wonder why anyone pay my hard earned
cash for something which the composer is unable to complete successfully.
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh but this music really does not
speak to me as there is little of real interest in it. The sound
is good and the performances seem committed. One of the things
which has disappointed me over the past few years is that with
the large number of radio stations broadcasting on the internet
from the USA I have heard a large amount of rather uninteresting
academic music which is being written in that country. This seems
to be just another example of that kind of music, and therefore
I cannot bring myself to recommend this disk to you.