Light and Shadow: Modern Orchestral Works
Rain WORTHINGTON (b.1969)
+Tracing a Dream (2009) [8:17]
Rebecca OSWALD (b.1958)
Finding the Murray River [6:06]
Sleep, Child [4:56]
Adrienne ALBERT (b.1941)
Boundaries [5:40]
Interiors [6:54]
Tadd RUSSO (b.1976)
Family Voices [6:09]
*Tonisadie [5:14]
Light and Shadow in the Yosemite Valley (2006-7) [8:48]
Moravian Philharmonic; *Plzen Philharmonic/Vit Micka; +Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Ovidiu Marinescu; Ohio State University Orchestra/Marshall Haddock
rec. Olomouc, Czech Republic, April 2009 [Russo]; November, 2009 [Albert]; March 2010 [Oswald]; Moscow, March 2010 [Worthington]; Plzen, Czech Republic, June 2008 [Lombardi]; Ohio State University, Columbus, June 2007 [Perttu]. DDD
NAVONA RECORDS NV 5847 [52:04]

Navona Records - or, more accurately, PARMA, the parent company - sometimes seem to have the oddest ideas about marketing. This latest release ties a few of them together in the same package. To begin with, the CD is lamentably short, and the six recording venues and/or dates have given rise to an overall quality of sound which at best can be described as variable. This is not at all helped by orchestral playing that sometimes fails to conceal the 'budget' nature of one or two of the ensembles.

Second, this seems to be a random collection of works by composers connected by nothing more than the fact that they are American. The title of the CD, "Light and Shadow", comes from the best work on the disc, but seems to have no application to the other works. Even the subtitle, "Modern Orchestral Works", is a little misleading - the average length of the eight works is only eight minutes, and most of the music is on the lighter side of things. Navona do not help their cause by providing relatively hit-and-miss information: biographies are fine, but, apart from Tadd Russo, no birth dates are provided; notes on works are all right, but no indication is given as to when the works were written; production details are present, but no information about the orchestras or conductors.

The booklet itself is 'virtual', having been digitised and put on the CD-ROM section of the disc. Perhaps in the circles inhabited by PARMA management everyone listens to music on PCs, but for those still behind the times and using a hi-fi, the need for a computer is a definite irritation. Why not put genuine extras on the CD-ROM, and include a short booklet for those still stuck in the past? The "extras" included here, besides biographies and work descriptions, include computer desktop wallpaper and ringtones and the complete scores to all the works on the disc - though some are best viewed through a magnifying glass. The disc case is made of card, with only the basic details printed onto it.

The music itself, on the other hand, is likely to have broad appeal. If it is a random collection, it is also an aromatic potpourri. As already mentioned, the works are undemandingly enjoyable, directly petitioning hearts rather than minds. But they are more than fripperies, despite the best efforts of some of the twee titles.

Rain Washington's Tracing a Dream is a straightforward but interesting, dark-toned work, spoiled somewhat by the poor quality of the recording, which sounds flat like an mp3 file encoded at 160kbps. Sound improves somewhat back in Olomouc, although the string playing is not especially good: Rebecca Oswald's evocative, documentary-score-like Finding the Murray River is "a metaphor alluding to the heart's desire" taking the great Australian river as its starting point, and ending with a cute epilogue. Sleep, Child is a lullaby of sorts portraying the difficulties faced by mothers trying to comfort their babies in times of war.

The string ensemble is better for Adrienne Albert's strings-only Boundaries which is, mundanely and in a rather bizarre way, based on a boundary dispute between her and her neighbours. Given the subject matter, the music is hardly likely to be especially affecting, but it is attractive enough, with bold jerky rhythms in the middle sections. Interiors, reflections on childhood, is also for string orchestra, and has a similar easy-going feel to it.

Tadd Russo's Family Voices is a more inspired and powerful work in two parts, written for a production of two Harold Pinter plays. This moving piece has the distinct advantage of the best sound and playing so far on the disc. Russ Lombardi's Tonisadie is a lighthearted musical recollection of family walks through woods with the dog; it benefits from the generally better musicianship of the Plzen Philharmonic, and both this and, to a lesser degree, Daniel Perttu's invigorating Light and Shadow in the Yosemite Valley are also helped by the better sound away from Olomouc.

In fact, Perttu's Light and Shadow in the Yosemite Valley stands out on this disc in terms of imagination and depth, although the Ohio State University Orchestra under the memorably named Marshall Haddock are not the best champions Perttu could have had.

Nevertheless, it must be reiterated that sound quality on this disc is not what it should be, especially not for a full-price disc with other shortcomings. That is a pity for the composers, because much of the music on this recording, while not exactly trail-blazing, deserves to be heard again.


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While not exactly trail-blazing this music deserves to be heard again.