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Michael G CUNNINGHAM (b.1937)
Sonic flight

Violin Concerto, op.166 (1994/1995) [15:42]
Dialogue for Orchestra and wind trio, op.11a (1959) [8:18]
Diaphony for Orchestra and wind trio, op.229 (2003) [5:48]
Wakefield Autumn, op.151 (1992) [9:44]
Kaleidoscope, op.227 (2003) [6:39]
Venus and Adonis, op.141 (1989) [22:23]
Ondrey Libr (violin)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor (opp.166, 229, 141)
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Vit Micka (opp.11a; 151)
rec. June 2004, May 2007, May 2005 (opp.166, 229, 141); November 2007 June 2003 (opp.11a; 151). DDD

Experience Classicsonline

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.

Bob Briggs




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