This is allegedly the first foray of American classical
composer Bruce Wolosoff into the realm of popular music. This
raid was really successful – so I wonder whether more will follow.
The idea behind the project was not really revolutionary: Charles
Wetherbee, the first violin of the Carpe Diem Quartet, approached
Wolosoff and asked him to write for them some rock- and jazz-based
music. He also wanted Wolosoff to do it while still speaking
in his own voice as composer. The solution Wolosoff found is
definitely ingenious. As the composer tells us in the liner-notes,
he based his pieces on the riffs and improvisations that he
recorded while listening to the favorite songs of the Carpe
Diem members. The “founding” songs themselves are unrecognizable
in the result but you can make out the spirit and the style.
This spirit and style is, for the most part, very American,
apparently reflecting the sources of Wolosoff’s inspiration.
There are many flavors – from Gershwin, to rowdy Texan hoopla,
to bluegrass, to pop rock. There are slowly swaying Celtic pastorals,
round dances with the fiddle, energetic blues with a hard rhythmic
bounce, wild hoedowns, nervous pizzicati and liquid ballads.
Late Beethoven and Stephane Grappelli come to shake hands in
Gershwin’s salon. There is plenty of variation and development
and although the character of each piece is relatively constant,
the mood changes between the pieces.
So, full marks for the idea! The realization is not so perfect
– but maybe I should blame my high expectations. From Divertimenti
I would expect, first and foremost, diversity. It is present
here, but insufficient to sustain 18 pieces. Listening to 10
of them was great; listening to 14 made me wondering when the
disc would end; and 18 was definitely too much. The last track
is one of the best – fragile and loaded with feeling, it reaches
the heart-aching depths of Piazzolla’s Milongas. I would
not recommend listening to the entire disc in one pass: as with
Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, you should know when to have
The playing of the Carpe Diem is resonant and assured. They
perform with intensity and obvious enthusiasm. The sonic effects
are executed perfectly, the pizzicato is sonorous, and the ensemble
very harmonious. At times there is a certain “sameness of pressure”
over long stretches of music, although I don’t know whether
this is the composer’s or performers’ fault. The music is accessible
and melodic, but subtlety is not one of its main features. Each
part is more or less defined in its opening, and there are little
surprises along the way.
This disc is really great fun on first listening. I am not sure
it wears well over repetitive listening – maybe yes if you tend
to listen “in the background”, or love such “fusion” projects.
I expect, though, that a small selection could have a big success
in the concert-hall. The recording quality is excellent; the
acoustics are clean and realistic.
see also review by Brian