American composer Sebastian Currier has made only one fleeting
appearance so far in these pages, with his trio Verge in a review
of a disc issued a decade ago by Crystal Records. That work
was warmly received, and so are the piano works on this latest
release under Naxos's enigmatic "American Classics"
series, which now has so many items - getting on for 400 - it
is virtually a label in its own right.
The two short pieces, Scarlatti Cadences and Brainstorm,
were both written around the same time, and though quite different
on more than one level, share a common thread, that of "combining
of diverse, even opposing harmonic materials", in Currier's
words. The first is an alternately serene and frantic piece,
a kind of mid-20th century Scarlatti, whereas Brainstorm
lives up to its title as a pulsating, generally chromatic
scherzo that almost reaches self-combustion towards the end.
By contrast, Departures and Arrivals is a much more sedate
work. The title has nothing to do with airports or railway stations:
according to Currier, each of the six movements is in fact "an
alternative path that starts with the same material", more
literally in the case of the first three, abstractly in the
last three. In other words, Departures and Arrivals is
tantamount to six different versions of the same piece, reflecting
Currier's interest in a kind of musical 'butterfly effect' -
what would have followed if such and such a decision (note/chord/sequence
etc) had been taken instead of the one actually written down.
If all that sounds like an academic exercise, perhaps there
is an element of desiccation to the result, but after all, as
Currier points out, "this is like the actual process of
composing where the first idea one thinks of is not necessarily
the first idea one ultimately hears", and as such is a
valid and intriguing artistic endeavour. The common material
ensures that the pieces cohere as a work, and although Departures
and Arrivals is not likely to surge into anyone's top ten
favourite piano works, there is plenty to sustain the interest
over twenty minutes, particularly in the last three sections.
The finest work on the disc is Currier's five-movement Piano
Sonata, which he wrote while still a Juilliard student,
and it is to date his only one in that genre - in fact he has
not written a work for solo piano since 1999. The basic pattern
is fast-slow-fast-slow-fast, and the overall feel that of a
sonata from the middle decades of the 20th century - in other
words, though not tonal in the traditional sense, nor is it
especially modernistic or 'difficult'. Without diminishing their
value, the first four movements are in a way entrées to the
main fare, which is the chromatic, finger-breaking final movement,
amusingly marked 'Multifarious', a set of variations with a
couple of fugues thrown in for good measure.
Laura Melton, piano professor at Bowling Green State University
in Ohio, has further experience of Currier's music, having recorded
his works for piano and violin with Yehonatan Berick on Albany
Records (as yet apparently unreleased). In any case, she makes
light of the difficulties present even in the earlyish Piano
Sonata to deliver a convincing interpretation of this music.
Sound quality is very good. The CD booklet, for reasons best
known to Naxos, does not give any biographical information about
Currier beyond the desultory blurb on the back inlay.
Currier's new violin concerto Time Machines is scheduled
to receive its world premiere performance in June, performed
by Anne-Sophie Mutter with the New York Philharmonic under Alan
Gilbert - a sign that Currier's music is on the cusp of the
kind of broader exposure it deserves.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
see also reviews over at Seen and Heard:
About Time: Old Beethoven, New Sebastian Currier and Overdue
Bruckner by Bruce Hodges
NYPO offer a Beethoven Bon-bon, some Sebastian Currier Caffeine
and a Dollop of Brucknerian Schlag
by Stan Metzger