David Carlson is not likely to be a familiar name to many, which
is both a pity and rather a mystery: his music, at least on
the evidence of this CD, is both absorbing and accessible.
The title True Divided Light is an architectural term
referring to multi-paned windows. Although the work is not programmatic,
the liner-notes - presumably supplied by Carlson - explain that
the title is intended to suggest "a number of evocative
metaphors: light versus dark, a window into the soul, and, in
the case of stained glass, refracted colors juxtaposed to convey
meaning and emotion." Such phrases might reasonably apply
to much music by many composers, it is true, yet that does not
detract from the power of Carlson's writing.
The first movement of True Divided Light is reminiscent
of Philip Glass in places, but this is not minimalism by a long
chalk. In fact, both works on the disc are complex, expressive
and tonal. Anyone appreciative of the chamber music of, say,
Shostakovich or Martinu, should find this much to their taste
- which is not to say that Carlson sounds either 'old-fashioned'
or like either of them; his voice is his own. True Divided
Light is both energetic and lyrical, mystical and luminous.
The Sonata for Cello and Piano was written in 1991 during
the AIDS scare in San Francisco, and its mood - reflective,
slightly plaintive - seems to hint quite reasonably at the social
unease of that period. It has two parts, but is played as one
continuous movement. It is highly demanding of both cellist
Emil Miland and pianist David Korevaar, who acquit themselves
All three very experienced soloists have the highest credentials,
being widely recorded, champions of contemporary music and recipients
of various awards and honours. Miland in particular has a longstanding
and close working relationship with Carlson, with various commissions
and first performances to his credit.
These are world première recordings. Given that the Sonata
is grippingly superb, it is astonishing that it has taken 20
years for the public to be able to hear a recording of it, and
kudos to the supporting Foundations and MSR Classics for making
The sound balance and general audio quality is very good. The
only real quibble is the shortness of the CD: 43 minutes of
David Carlson's chamber music is worth anyone's money, but should
they also have pay for 37 minutes of empty space?