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Douglas KNEHANS (b. 1957)
Soar, Concerto for cello and orchestra No.1 [14:12]
Drift, oboe and strings [10:36]
... Mist, Memory, Shadow..., violin and strings [10:16]
Cascade, Concerto for orchestra [26:03]
Jiř Hošek (cello)
Vladislav Borovka (oboe)
Dora Bratchkova (violin)
Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon Gee (Soar, Mist)
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Mikel Toms (Drift, Cascade)
rec. Slovakia; Brno, Czech Republic further details, including dates not given.
ABLAZE RECORDS AR-00022 [61:07]

merican-Australian composer Douglas Knehans has a great facility for melody and these works amply demonstrate that. Soar, his cello concerto started life as a work for cello and piano and was orchestrated in 2006. Remarkably there is little indication while listening that it could ever have existed in another form since it works so well for cello and orchestra. Despite its short length of 14 minutes this single movement concerto not only fully exploits the cello’s many and varied colours but is a highly charged and emotionally rich work that also belies its American origins in that it has a distinctly European sound, at least to my ears. The emotionally dark and disturbed nature is immediately apparent from the very beginning and the powerfully stated argument is maintained throughout leaving a lasting impression on the listener.

Drift for solo oboe and strings is an ocean of calm by contrast and beautifully stated. Knehans explains in the booklet notes that his inspiration in part was a mental picture of clouds against sky dissolving into each other as they move across it and it certainly conjures up such an image. His hope in writing it was that the listener can appreciate this in such a way as to have the impression that time has been suspended and that all that remains “is the beautiful sounds of stillness hanging in the air” and I can concur that that was precisely the impression it had on me.

Clearly his desire to describe the natural world in music is a major motivating factor in his aim as a composer for the next work ...Mist, Memory, Shadow... seeks to articulate his reaction to Tasmania where he was resident for eight years between 2000-2008 and indeed he regards Australia as his second home. He points out in his notes that mist is a key feature in Tasmania, one which cloaks the island in a shroud of mystery along with its majesty. The element of memory comes from his feelings of contemplation heralded by the mists, encouraging him to reflect upon that majesty that is Tasmania’s natural wilderness and how it fits in with past, present and future which is something we should all reflect upon given the impact we humans are continuing to have on the fragility of the Earth and its natural features and resources. The violin emerges as if it is part of the mist rising up into the sky and is a powerful image. It is so heartening that gone are the days when composers fought shy of writing tuneful music and that they recognise that how they say what they want to say can embrace all methods of expression without fear of disapproval. Knehans’ rapturously gorgeous melodies are a delight to listen to.

Cascade –Concerto for Orchestra is an orchestrated version of a work originally written for two pianos and once again it seems a perfectly natural approach for this music that falls into three short movements, Drift echo, Waves and Torrent. There is a relentless energy here in the opening movement, less so in the first half of the second and on my first had me wondering if the titles of the two would not have fitted better reversed so I mentally discounted them and concentrated on the music which once again is extremely satisfying with lots of ideas being thoroughly exploited. Then the music burst out of its more languid mood before once again subsiding and becoming calm once more. The third movement has some more superb writing for strings with expressive themes which are worked through in highly attractive ways and which sweep the listener on towards the concerto’s exciting conclusion. Knehans seems full of ideashis music is never less than totally engaging and I found this disc a marvellous introduction to his musical world as I am sure you will too. It is also very pleasing to hear two less wellknown orchestras, both of which play so brilliantly with each conductor in firm control of these forces while each of the three soloists clearly admir the music and admiration through their committed playing. All in all a fascinating disc of engaging music from another composer whose music needs wider circulation.

Steve Arloff

 



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