This programme is advertised as up-beat and swinging, and this is
certainly true of Gardening At Gropius House. The title refers
to a time in the composer's youth when he was employed as a gardener,
his illustrious employer gradually sharing some details about his
remarkably rich past.
Rolnick's music is quite clearly anti-modernist in the sense that
it avoids the stereotypical gestures of avant-garde atonality. Anything
goes these days, and the moments of jazz or salon-music sweetness
in this work are by no means revolutionary. Superbly crafted, this
piece is great fun, and holds enough contrast to maintain interest
for its substantial thirty minute duration. There are lyrically expressive
passages, darker harmonic moments and some subtle electronic extras
which keep the ear wide awake, even if the drums tend to go on a bit.
Both of these works are expertly performed and very well recorded,
and repeated listening will yield rewards and surprises. Anosmia
is one of a series of Rolnick's pieces which examine the loss of various
senses - in this case that of smell. The work shares a sense of exploratory
genre hopping, with vocal doowahs, integrated narration and vocal
lines which link to restlessly inventive instrumental parts which
seem in a permanent state of homage. The nose associations call up
reminders of Michael Nyman's Nose List Songs, particularly
with some of thoseharmonies around "What if I burn up the kitchen?"
or perhaps even the pointillism of parts of Shostakovich's satirical
opera The Nose. The music doesn't sound particularly derivative,
but does set itself up for a myriad comparisons.
You will have to decide for yourself if Neil Rolnick's idiom inspires
you to dance around the room or drives you up the wall in short order.
These aren't the kinds of pieces you can listen to casually since
there is always too much going on for the attention to be allowed
to wander far. With intriguing electronic effects which aren't always
directly apparent, there is a frequent feel of "what you see isn't
necessarily what you get", the musical stage leaping on occasion from
sparing chamber-music to more cinematic perspectives. Anosmia
builds into something akin to a chamber opera, a "love song [which]
describes how loss can lead to a deepening and strengthening of the
bonds between two people" with a Kurt Weill kind of vibe but without
any big tunes.