Bruce WOLOSOFF (b. 1955)
Songs without Words (18 Divertimenti for String Quartet) (2008)
No.1. The River [3:13]
No.2. Circle Dance [3:16]
No.3. Blues for Stravinsky [2:54]
No.4. Wound Up! [2:46]
No.5. Dancing on my Grave [1:53]
No.6. Reverence [4:14]
No.7. The Sidewalk Strut [2:30]
No.8. The Letter [3:02]
No.9. Skunk [3:15]
No.10. Young Love [4:37]
No.11. Creepalicious [2:05]
No.12. After Hours [3:10]
No.13. Cat Scratch Fever [2:58]
No.14. Getting Down [3:33]
No.15. Fire and Ice [3:09]
No.16. Tough Decisions [3:07]
No.17. Survivor’s Truth [3:19]
No.18. The Last Kiss [3:15]
Carpe Diem String Quartet (Charles Wetherbee (violin); John Ewing (violin); Korine Fujiwara (viola); Diego Fainguersch (cello))
rec. October 2008, First Community Church, Grandview, Ohio, USA.

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 a break.

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.

Oleg Ledeniov

Interesting idea and great fun, though not wearing well over repetitive listening.

see also review by Brian Reinhart