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Neil ROLNICK (b. 1947)
Gardening At Gropius House (2012) [30:03]
Anosmia (2011) [29:24]
Alarm Will Sound*/Alan Pierson
Todd Reynolds (violin)
SFCM New Music Ensemble**/Nicole Paiement
Nicole Paiement (soprano)
Daniel Cilli (baritone )
Neil Rolnick (laptop, computer)
rec. Recital Hall of the National Opera Center, New York City, 13-14 June 2013 (Gardening At Gropius House); Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall,San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 4 March 2012 (Anosmia).
INNOVA 877 [59:28]

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.
 
Dominy Clements


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