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… And One Last Waltz, for orchestra [15:18]
*Symphony in B flat [30:40]
Fantasy Sonata, for piano [20:37]
Karolina Rojahn (piano)
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Vít Micka, *Petr Vronský (movements 1-3)
rec. Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic, 1998 (And One Last Waltz); March 2010 (Symphony, movements 1-2); September 2007 (Symphony, movement 3); March & September 2011 (Symphony, movement 4); Futura Productions, Roslindale, Massachusetts, April 2012 (Fantasy Sonata). NAVONA NV5897 [66:35]
Sparky Davis somehow seems an unlikely name for a composer. Where it originates and who he really is remains something of a mystery - this new Navona recording sheds no light on the matter, whilst the internet throws up its usual cornucopia of unreliable memes. The booklet describes Davis's music as "modern, not modernistic", though in fact his language is relatively 'old-fashioned' - the film-score-like first track, for example, bizarre wind machine interruption notwithstanding, might have been written eighty years ago. Much the same could be said of the Symphony - right down to the baffling reappearance of the wind machine. In short, these are polite, slightly naive works, but they are also lovingly crafted and melodious. The Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra give them a reasonably good run-out.
Navona have a good track record for bringing unknown composers to public attention, but the trouble with their recordings is that they are generally done in eastern Europe where quality is not always sustained. A lackadaisical approach is self-evident from a perusal of the technical information, which reveals that the Symphony was recorded in four sessions spread over four years - and with a different conductor for a final movement itself a splicing of two recording sessions.
With a crack technical team any side-effects need not be disastrous and in fact they are not that. There are however some problems. ...And One Last Waltz lacks width and depth, with only one or two percussion instruments - those nearest the microphone - well captured. There is also a rather blunt editing join a little over five and a half minutes in. The Symphony has, possibly a bit more clarity, yet the sound, like the music itself indeed, still recalls an old 1950s Hollywood film score in qualitative terms. The final movement, Adagio di molto misterioso - appearing on the tracklist as if it were a separate work - heralds a distinct improvement in quality, with another at around ten minutes in. Rummy at best, a dog's breakfast at worst.
The final work on the disc is Davis's Fantasy Sonata, the most evolved of the three, and better recorded - made in America indeed. Polish-born pianist Karolina Rojahn has done some sterling work for Navona over the years, a fact celebrated by a new release entitled 'The Parma Sessions' (NV5925), which is an anthology of pieces from different Navona/Parma recordings, in all of which Rojahn plays a starring role. One of the works on it is Davis's Fantasy Sonata, and some listeners may be inclined to prefer 'The Parma Sessions' over the present disc, both to enjoy Rojahn's artistry and for the extra variety. The Sonata too could be anything up to a hundred years old, more in places - a final refutation of the assertion that Davis is "modern, not modernistic". He is neither, but that does not mean that he will find no audiences for his music. Far from it, in fact.