Stephen L. MOSKO (1947-2005)
Transliminal Music (1998) [23:06]
Tim SULLIVAN (b.?)
Daniel CROZIER (b.?)
Fairy Tale (2002) [14:23]
Michael G. CUNNINGHAM (b.1937)
TransActions (1980) [7:57]
Slovak Radio SO/Kirk Trevor [Mosko]; Moravian PO/Vit Micka [Sullivan]; Seattle SO/Gerard Schwartz [Crozier]; Russian PO/Ovidiu Marinescu [Cunningham]
rec. Bratislava, May 2007 [Mosko]; Olomouc, Czech Republic, November 2009 [Sullivan]; Seattle, September 2007 [Crozier]; Moscow, March 2010 [Cunningham]. DDD
NAVONA RECORDS NV5836 [59:20]
On the face of it, this is not a release that will have eager punters thronging the streets or queuing round the block to get their hands on a copy. Four relatively unknown American composers, small-name orchestras and conductors - even though the label claims "the finest musicians and orchestras in the world, handpicked" - and a menu of works with titles like Transliminal Music, Polychrome and TransActions. All that packaged on a CD that seems to provide no information at all about the composers - not even their birth years - and nothing about the music.
But all is not lost. Despite initial appearances to the contrary, this is in fact an "enhanced CD", which means it needs to go into a computer in order for the listener to access "exclusive interactive multimedia content" - basic information, in old money. In fairness, the CD-ROM does let you see the scores of each of the works - though a magnifying glass will come in handy - as well as the liner-notes. Great for those listening on their computers, not so good for those who prefer something less modern like a hi-fi. For good measure, the electronic booklet also gives access to computer desktop wallpaper - the same pattern as on the CD cover, no less - and, in what is quite possibly a first, a choice of Polychrome or TransActions ringtones! For some unexplained reason there is also a written tribute to Mosko's wife, the flautist Dorothy Stone, who died in 2008.
On the other hand, even with all that additional virtual space, neither Sullivan's nor Crozier's birth years are given. A quick internet search reveals only that this is a different Tim Sullivan to the Canadian composer born in 1954! Nor are there any notes on the first piece, Transliminal Music, one of only three orchestral works written by Stephen Mosko, who, until his early death in 2005, probably had the highest profile of the four featured composers. As the longest and most modernistic work on the disc, this is a very odd choice for track one. Only those with considerable exposure to, say, the avant-gardism of 1970s Germany are likely to find this anything other than longwinded and structure-less.
The remaining works are more accessible, though to varying degrees. Writing about Polychrome, Tim Sullivan explains that he has been "attempting to create music that finds a balance between experimentalism and accessibility." Polychrome succeeds in this to a significant extent, as did Alfred Schnittke, with whose music Sullivan reveals a fascination. This is a complex, dramatic, often violent, percussive work - jazz drumming is also a hobby of Sullivan's, and he slips in the odd bit of it here and there, though in a tasteful enough way - and perhaps therefore not instantly memorable, but there are also passages of reflection and calmness, and the piece ends peacefully.
Originally written as a third movement to an as yet unrealised symphony, Daniel Crozier's Fairy Tale is tonal, nostalgic, often lush, almost late-Romantic - not surprisingly somewhat reminiscent of Richard Strauss - and therefore likely to appeal to a wider audience. Crozier writes that it might be thought of as "an opera scene without words", and there is no denying its narrative feel.
The final work on the disc is also the shortest, and the oldest, dating back to 1980 - in fact, by 21st century standards, it hardly counts as modern! Michael Cunningham's TransActions is a bustling, restless piece, but not without merit. It ends suddenly, almost as if the last page of the score had been lost. There is a prominent role for solo violin, though in no other way does it resemble a concerto. According to Cunningham, the title suggests "actions, gestures and lines on one orchestral level bringing about reactions on other levels."
In all four works the music presents numerous and various challenges for orchestras and conductors, but in each case these are more than adequately met. The sound quality is immaculate. At sixty minutes the disc could have been longer, but overall this is a moderately appealing way to explore the generally more tonality-based end of late 20th century American music.
A moderately appealing way to explore the generally more tonality-based end of late 20th century American music.