Gernot WOLFGANG (b.1957)
Short Stories
Low Agenda, for bassoon and contrabass (2007) [3:48]
Theremin's Journey, for theremin, piano and electronics (2009) [15:14]
Rolling Hills and Jagged Ridges, for violin and piano (2007) [12:26]
Quiet Time, for viola and piano (2008) [5:23]
Encounters, for violin and bassoon (2009) [12:30]
Still Waters, for piano (2009) [4:57]
Three Short Stories, for viola and bassoon (2000) [10:50]
Judith Farmer (bassoon); Nico Abondolo (contrabass); Joanne Pearce Martin (theremin, piano); Tereza Stanislav (violin) [Rolling Hills]; Bryan Pezzone (piano) [Rolling Hills]; Gernot Wolfgang (electronics); Brian Dembow (viola); Sara Parkins (violin) [Encounters]; Gloria Cheng (piano) [Still Waters]
rec. Alfred Newman Recital Hall, Southern California University, Los Angeles. 1-3 June 2010. DDD
ALBANY RECORDS TROY 1248 [65:52]

This appears to be only the second CD devoted entirely to the 'concert' music of Austrian composer Gernot Wolfgang. The first was released in 2006, also by Albany (TROY 854), and was warmly received by critics. Wolfgang is heavily involved in jazz and film music, which is probably why this release carries the trendy subtitle, "More groove-oriented chamber music". Currently working as a composer, arranger and orchestrator of film and TV music, Wolfgang is also guitarist with an Austrian jazz group, and in the nineties was lecturer in Jazz Composition and Harmony at Graz University.

Unsurprisingly, then, the disc opens on an overtly jazzy note with Low Agenda for bassoon and contrabass. The liner-notes, presumably by Wolfgang, state that "a groove is present throughout", and that the "C section of the theme is rock-oriented". Such assertions may put off more listeners than they attract, but the work lasts less than four minutes and has several attractive passages for both instrumentalists.

Rolling Hills and Jagged Ridges is the finest work on the disc. Its inspiration is the imaginary landscape of the title, which begins and ends enveloped in mist, with an impressive view of the rugged landscape in between. The music for violin is particularly inventive, with a recurring 'Hills' theme and imaginative use of silence and plucking, and even a Bach-like cadenza. As the mists descend towards the end of the piece, there is time for once last, quick flourish. After that comes another appealing duo, Quiet Time, this time for reflectively rhapsodic viola and restrainedly resonant piano.

Encounters is the fourth and final work in a series Wolfgang composed for bassoon in duet with a stringed instrument (three are on this CD), this time paired with the violin. There are three sections, the outer two lively and quirky in nature and showcasing more exotic instrumental effects like chopping and multiphonics, whilst the middle movement, 'The Abstract Truth', sounds appropriately like a mild-mannered philosophical debate between soloists.

Three Short Stories was written significantly earlier than the other works on the disc; this time the bassoon takes up with the viola. The first Story is a twitchy frolic entitled 'Uncle Bebop' which is naturally rather jazzy, though not in a superficial way. 'Rays of Light' is slower and more plaintive - overcast rather than sunny - and there is little duetting as such. The final Story is called 'Latin Dance', which it technically is, though through the medium of bassoon and viola it tries hard not to be - without loss of interest. There is a humorous fake ending to the work. Still Waters is a contemplative piece for solo piano, described by pianist Gloria Cheng as "Schoenberg meets Bill Evans". The music portrays a forest lake whose otherwise tranquil surface is disturbed from time to time by animal or plant movement.

All the music so far has been reasonably 'normal' - accessible, generally tonal, melodic, for orthodox instruments; but Theremin's Journey is quite different. True, there is a piano - which plays bluesy, filmic, generally quite unmemorable music - but add in the theremin and pre-recorded electronics and the listener is off on a bizarre jazz meets sci-fi meets film-pop journey. The high-pitched spooky whine of the theremin is unmistakable, and unforgettable in small doses, as here; the work was in fact commissioned by Joanne Pearce Martin, who plays both theremin and piano. This track actually carries a 'health' warning on the cover: "Crackles are part of the electronic track and are intentional: the CD is not defective!" As it happens, the crackling is not particularly noticeable, and in general the electronics are atmospheric and additive in combination with the theremin. But twice Wolfgang loses all sense of decorum, as the computer programming lapses briefly into Euro-pop electro-beats - which Wolfgang calls "groove-oriented climaxes", apparently inspired by a 1970s Miles Davies - exacerbated by lazy jazz clichés in the piano writing. Nevertheless, the first and last two or three minutes at least of the 'journey' are really quite fascinating musically.

In fact, for a disc in which, according to the composer himself, "rhythms (grooves) from musical styles such as jazz, rock and roll, pop, world music and electronics play important roles" in the music, this is really rather an attractive prospect. The soloists all give committed performances, Brian Dembow's viola in particular, and the sound quality is very good.

Byzantion

An attractive prospect with committed performances and very good sound quality.