Play It Again
Kenji BUNCH (b.1973)
Slow dance (1996) [10:16]
Marjan MOZETICH (b.1948)
Scales of joy and sorrow (2007) [20:39]
Jorge GRUNDMAN (b.1961)
A walk across adolescence (2011) [8:49]
Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b.1957)
Calliope Dreaming (2008) [7:32]
Paul SCHOENFIELD (b.1947)
Café music (1987) [16:04]
Chick COREA (b.1941)
Addendum (1983) [5:18]
Trio Arbós (Miguel Borrego (violin), José Miguel Gómez (cello), Juan Carlos Garvayo (piano))
rec. October 2011, Cezanne Producciones, Madrid. Hybrid SACD.
NON PROFIT MUSIC NPM1012 [68:41]  

The Spanish Trio Arbós presents here a contemporary chamber music collection. The works are modern yet accessible; they gratify on both emotional and cerebral levels. The liner-note explains that the musicians deliberately built the program in the concert style, going from slow to fast - and then adding an encore. 

Slow Dance
starts with a sparse, apathetic introduction. We gaze at the base of the fabric, the grey canvas. Then beautiful red lines and strokes begin to appear on the canvas - flowers and leaves, faces and curly locks. The pictures come to life - but in the spectral way that memories do. There is pain in this joy, and joy in this pain, like in a reminiscence that was good but gone. Again we see the barren canvas in front of us, cold and lifeless. I feel a parallel with the Valse triste of Sibelius, though here the emotional voltage is not brought in by increased tempo, but by thickening of the texture.
The tripartite work Scales of Joy and Sorrow, in the minimalistic style which was made popular by Philip Glass, is based on simple arpeggios and scale runs. Like Glass’s music, it fascinates the first time you hear it, but do not listen to it too often, for it quickly palls. The opening Slow-fast starts wide and bittersweet; this is the “joy” part of the title, warm and viscous. It is very Glass-like, with superimposition of movement and stasis, the regular rhythm of running scales and arpeggios over static harmonies, with very simple harmonic changes. The music gradually becomes more intense, speeds up, and we enter the second, “sorrow” part of this movement: the anxious running up and down the scales, stressed yet concentrated. The music commiserates with the runner. The middle movement, entitled Arabesque, is surprisingly Schumanesque for a minimalistic piece - a love song in scales, improvisation-style, going from tenderness to ecstatic tremor and back. Fast and Slow transposes the first and second halves of the opening movement, which really works nicely as a structural device. After the break of the Arabesque, the anguished, desperate runningof the Fast music seems even more intense. Then, like an apparition of celestial beauty, comes the glowing music of the Slow, closing the structural brackets. All calms down in serene tranquility. 

A Walk Across Adolescence
is a glance back in time, romanticizing the experiences and feelings of the adolescent. One idea is the rough, independent stride, where the pizzicato cello realistically assumes the role of the jazz bass. I don’t know the composer’s intention, but I see here the young man’s striving for independence, the wish to be big and decisive, the squinted stare and the cocky posture. It starts strong, but then is covered by another theme, sweet and pure like first love. It sounds artless and a little awkward - but that’s how our first loves are. The first rough theme lurks in the foundation, deep under the surface, but gradually disappears. Moonriver-like love music occupies most of the work’s span. Love transfigures the person or so it seems to me. 

Calliope Dreaming
is an unusual tribute to Haydn - more in spirit than in letter, although it is based on motifs from his Mourning Symphony (No.44). This symphony is typical of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period, and so it’s not all cheer and fun, but has some cold and dark stuff as well. The work combines features of toccata and passacaglia, with a lot of variational development. It is for the most part a fast, agitated run, with several visits from a lyrical theme, and some folk-dance roughness. There is a feeling of unease and pressure, yet there is also a feeling of “active happiness”, despite all that happens. This is happiness under stress, in all circumstances, happiness coming from the inside of the character. This will to be happy is so Haydnesque. The musical fabric is actually rather heavy, but as the piece is not long, it does not become a bother or a burden.
We dive head-first into Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music, whose popularity, in my opinion, is well deserved. It is shamelessly populist, but I never get tired of this music; every time it fascinates me. The first movement is a gritty ragtime, with an irresistible jazzy drive, and a rainbow of musical colors and textures - a Gershwinesque kaleidoscope, arrogant and bold. The bittersweet slow movement is a consoling lullaby, ranging from sentimental to pure melodramatic. It has something in common with Papa, can you hear me? from Yentl. The finale is a fiery, over-the-top rondo. It has an infectious Gypsy drive, though it is based more on quickstep moves.
At the end of this quasi-concert program, following a plausible assumption of hearty applause, the musicians add an encore, or, more precisely, an Addendum. This is unmistakable Chick Corea. One would guess the author just by the harmony and his signature dancing figurations on the piano. The music is light and airy as a dance in the meadow, sonorous and optimistic, an amalgam of the Latin bounce with the Celtic spirit.
So, a very attractive collection of modern yet accessible works. The performances are devoted. In the hands of the Arbós the music comes alive; each note is in breathing motion. Their rubato and dynamics are very natural, and if they push the sound sometimes, it’s all due to the Romantic qualities of the music. The lyrical moments throb, the quiet tip-toe, the loud are explosive. The rhythms are gripping. The performers do not spread the music too thin: it is compact and energetic. I’d prefer more improvisatory flavor in Café Music: this reading is too “regular”; the slow movement becomes march-like, the finale almost a polka. Overall these are enthusiastic performances, as irresistible as this music deserves.
The sound quality is excellent; the recording is very clear, deep and resonant. The booklet tells us about the composers and the works, and a little about the trio, in Spanish and English.
The disc is called “Play It Again”, and I definitely will. 

Oleg Ledeniov 

Enthusiastic performances - as irresistible as this music deserves.