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Slices - A cross-section of contemporary classical works for small ensemble
Track listing after review
Moravian Winds
rec. 4 March 2011, Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic
NAVONA NV 5874 [54.30]

Experience Classicsonline

This is something a little different; even a touch eccentric.
I will quote the inside of the cardboard CD holder. The pieces selected are “ a carefully handpicked selection of new chamber works by contemporary composers designed to showcase the diversity of modern music-making and these pieces ... cut right through the oft-repeated misconception that classical music is dead on the vine.” So, what to expect from that? Something revolutionary? Something radical? Something crossover or minimalist? Something with a highly original turn? Well, we get music that sometimes sounds as if it was written 50-70 years ago being often quite tonal. Does that matter?
First up is American composer Reynard Burns and his attractive and neat three movement Carnival for wind ensemble. It sports a light and airy Allegro-Adagio and a Vivace with some elegant lines and spunky rhythms. The disc comes with no liner-notes but says that you must ”Place this product in your computer to access study scores, extended liner notes and more”. Two little icons should pop onto your screen and on clicking on one of them it all becomes very impressive and clever. Scores are available and can be downloaded and you can listen to a few minutes of each track in order to get a taste of each.
The second piece is British composer Lionel Sainsbury’s passionate unaccompanied violin piece Soliloquy. Being able to see the score makes it quite clear how supremely well it has been conceived for the violin. It may well remind many of you in its modal lines and intricate, jazzy rhythms of the same composer’s large-scale Violin Concerto recorded by Lorraine McAslan for Dutton (CDLX7245).
As an intriguing example of two-part writing take a look at the brief Daugava by Swedish composer Hákan Sundin for flute and clarinet. Daugava is the name of a river here depicted flowing in and around itself in a delicate and curly manner. It’s quite fascinating: sometimes together and sometimes separate and all hanging around a single tonality.
Equally modest, although a little longer, is the Duo for Clarinet and Violin by Dutch composer Hans Bakker who, now retired, composes full-time. The opening Andante is a gentle canon. The middle movement introduces glissandi into a tender landscape. The finale is a little romp in compound time which is also canonic. Overall, it’s a piece which seems to me a little cerebral.
The booklet remarks “Who says eclecticism isn’t a wonderful thing” - a happy statement, I feel. The two pieces for the same instrumental combination by American composer Alan Beeler bear out this argument.
Cadenzas began life, it seems, as an aleatoric Cage-inspired score in the 1960s. The composer tells us only that “a few year’s later” he notated it into what seems to me to be a Webernesque piece of near-pointillism. After repeated hearings it has certainly grown on me. It is freely atonal whereas the Flute, Clarinet Viola and Piano Quartet No. 2 - what an unusual but mellow combination to write for twice - is much more tonal although not in any specific key. Beeler’s idea was to use chromatic elements but in a tonally controlled environment. He uses differing intervallic relationships for each movement in the hope of listeners finding his music more attractive. He succeeds in doing this across the four movements. Allegro, Largo, an Allegretto in 5-time and finally a dancing Allegretto set of Variations in compound time. The latter continues the idea of overlapping lines, used throughout this piece and also in Cadenzas.
Another clearly eclectic American, Christina Rusnak, is represented by her solo piano piece Kypiro. This started, she says, as an improvisation. Following the score one quickly realises that it is entirely on the white notes but retains constant interest. It sounds like a controlled improvisation but is full of ear-tickling ideas.
For me, the pick of the CD comes last, William A. Fletcher’s curiously titled Avalokiteshvara’s Taxi. In his notes the composer waffles a bit about how he wants to connect emotionally with his listeners, which he does. He fails to explain the title or tell us when the piece was written but does tell us that these performers are the dedicatees. The work is tripartite and is marked with some lovely writing including overlapping, logical and lyrical lines. It is beautifully balanced for the four winds and leaving one feeling good and wishing that it might have gone on longer.
My overall impression, being something of a Luddite, is that this disc with its need to be put into the computer to obtain biographies and composers’ notes is a bit of a nuisance. Even so it’s brilliant to be able to follow the scores as long as you are quick to click onto the next page. My musician son aged 27 found it wonderful, as he does not have a conventional CD player or stereo unit. The sound obtained is very good but even better through a ‘proper’ stereo. In the circumstances its slightly short playing time is probably an irrelevance.
All of the performances are excellent and I can find nothing detrimental to say about any of these multifarious players and recording venues; the whole enterprise is highly desirable.
Gary Higginson 

Track Listing
Reynard BURNS (b.1946)
Carnival for Wind ensemble (2002) [11.22]
Moravian Philharmonic Winds
rec. 6 September 2011
Lionel SAINSBURY (b.1958)
Soliloquy for Solo Violin (1993)
Vit Muzik (violin)
rec. 11 July 2011
Hakán SUNDI (b.1942)
Daugava for flute and clarinet (2011) [2.15]
Marta Talabova (flute); Ales Janecek (clarinet)
rec. 28 July 2011
Hans BAKKER (b.1945)
Duo for Violin and Clarinet (2005) [7.35]
Vit Muzik (violin); Ales Janecek (clarinet)
rec. 3 March 2011
Alan BEELER (b.1939)
Cadenzas for piano, viola, cello and flute (1960s rev.later)[5.40]
Karolina Rojahn (piano); Mark Berger (viola); Yasmin Valenzuela (clarinet); Lisa Hennessy (flute)
Flute, Clarinet, Viola and Piano Quartet No. 2 [10.27]
(performers as above)
rec. 15 April 2011, Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic
Christina RUSNAK (b.1959)
Kyripo for solo piano (2007) [4.54]
Played by the composer
rec. Autumn 2007, Kiev, Ukraine
William A. FLETCHER (b.1955)
Avalokiteshvara’s Taxi for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon [5.41]



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