Donald CROCKETT (b.1951)
Night Scenes (2009) [17:13]
to airy thinness beat (2009) [18:38]
Wet Ink (2008) [6:44]
Scree (1997) [15:31]
Firebird Ensemble
rec. December 2009, Rogers Centre for the Arts, Merrimack College
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80718-2 [58:16]

Donald Crockett is a Californian and teaches composition there, as he has done also on the East Coast. He has written a deal of music, including a dozen orchestral pieces, but here we have music written for chamber forces, expertly played by the flexible Firebird Ensemble.

Night Scenes is for piano trio — Gabriela Diaz (violin), David Russell (cello) and Cory Smythe (piano) — written in four movements of which two of the titles have pictorial inspirations, or at least reference points; The Blue Guitar and Night Hawks. If this suggest a Picasso-Hopper axis then I won’t argue but the music realisation is perhaps less dramatic. The opening movement is terse, with a staccato quality, before the piano arpeggios imitate the guitar of the movement’s title; a cicada-rich reverie, with burnished textures. Midnight Train is jazzy cum railroad rolling, alongside which we find resinous folk inflected passages. The Hopper finale offers a duskier view, with a jagged central panel, and an element of Messiaen about things.

We have to keep to airy thinness beat in lower case. The lines came from Donne’s A Valediction Forbidding Mourning. The work is, in effect, a chamber concerto for viola, played by Kate Vincent (director of the Firebird Ensemble), who gave the work its first performance. The tentative melodic statements of the opening movement contain plenty of silences and hesitations; contemplative stasis too. Strong contrast comes in the succeeding movement with its tough, terse accents, whilst in the finale we move from vital energy through harmonic warmth to elegiac writing.

Wet Ink is an ebullient ritornello, sectionally broken up, with a long central panel. It’s written for violin and piano (Diaz and Smythe). Finally we arrive at the oldest of the quartet of works, Scree, written in 1977 for cello, piano and percussion (Russell, Smythe, and Jeffrey Means). The percussion imparts an obviously jazzy element but there is some near diaphanous writing in the third movement, which contains some of the best of Crockett in this disc, with the cello’s lyric line rising, in effect, to a melancholic lied. I liked too the quality of romantic reverie to be found in the finale.

The performances are admirable and the notes helpful.

Jonathan Woolf

Crockett’s music for chamber forces expertly played by the flexible Firebird Ensemble.