Jeffrey RYAN (b.1962)
The Linearity of Light, for orchestra (2003) [11:24]
Equilateral Concerto, for piano trio amd orchestra (2007) [23:54]
Symphony no.1 Fugitive Colours (2006) [33:55]
Gryphon Trio (Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin); Roman Borys (cello); Jamie Parker (piano))
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey
rec. Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, 2-4 February, 2008 (Equilateral, live); 4-6 October 2008 (Linearity, live); 3 June 2010 (Symphony, studio). DDD
NAXOS CANADIAN CLASSICS 8.572765 [69:13]
This is the inaugural CD of the new Naxos 'Canadian Classics' series, and what better place to start than with three varied orchestral works by Jeffrey Ryan. His music has appeared sporadically on disc over the last decade or so, but this is only the second devoted entirely to it. Full marks again to Naxos scouts for recognising an original voice. Though his language is undeniably modern, Ryan can be considered 'old school' in that he writes for traditional forces - no electric guitars, laptops or gamelan here - using many of the forms beloved of his European predecessors, albeit disguised by idiosyncratic titles.
The Linearity of Light is a good opener: overall reminiscent perhaps of Jerry Goldsmith, its vivid orchestration and episodic character would stand it in good stead in a dystopian or sci-fi film score, particularly the last three minutes, which bristle with excitement and drama. Ryan's music is angular and sometimes brash, but never out-and-out modernistic; indeed there are occasions when he calls on minimalist devices, particularly in Equilateral. Really there is nothing here to frighten the horses or neighbours, and anyone who has enjoyed Goldsmith's finest soundtracks should be quite comfortable with Ryan's music. That is not to say that this is film-grade writing - far from it. Ryan's orchestration is considerably more sophisticated, his ideas much more original than anything by his older compatriot Howard Shore, or for that matter by John Barry or Hans Zimmer.
Despite the title, Equilateral is not exactly a concerto, at least not in the archetypal Romantic format. If anything, the trio's role is often fairly modest, and the 'equality' could easily refer to the orchestra's role, which is substantial and important. At any rate, this is an impressive work that is sure to have wide appeal. Such a pity, then, that its requirement for three gifted soloists as well as an accomplished orchestra is likely to doom it to concert-hall neglect from the outset - but all the more reason to have this fine recording!
The Symphony is even more terrific, though wisely left to the end of the programme, as Ryan at last turns to modernism and atonality, although only in moderation - as the work progresses, so does the move back towards a diatonic idiom that will broaden its audience. This big, four-movement work is a cornucopia of orchestral detail and effects that never resorts to ostentation or gimmickry - often, indeed, the music is contemplative and gentle.
Besides Ryan, these are debut appearances on Naxos for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey and the Gryphon Trio. The Gryphons are, unfortunately, "committed to redefining chamber music for the 21st Century", but for this recording at least they continue with the Old Ways and, like the VSO and Tovey, turn in creditable, ingratiating performances.
Sound quality is very good too: the first two works are billed as live recordings, but there is almost no sign of an audience or any other noises off. The bilingual booklet notes - English and French, naturally - include Ryan's own description of these works, albeit focusing on technical aspects.
The odd Canadian composer has cropped up previously in the Naxos catalogue - Healey Willan, for one (review, review). Nonetheless, there remains a huge variety that Naxos might consider for subsequent volumes, both living and dead. With luck they will press on with this Canadian series as with the American and Spanish Classics, rather than take the tortoisy approach of the Japanese Classics. Either way, a Jeffrey Ryan follow-up should be high on the 'Things To Do Next' list.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Angular and sometimes brash, but never out-and-out modernistic.