David CARLSON (b.1952)
True Divided Light for Viola and Piano (2005) [23:24]
Sonata for Cello and Piano (1991) [20:32]
Geraldine Walther (viola)
Emil Miland (cello)
David Korevaar (piano)
rec. UC Santa Cruz, California, March 2009. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS 1283 [43:56]

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 very well.

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 it happen.

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?


David Carlson's chamber music is worth anyone's money.