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Prisma - Contemporary Works for Orchestra
Lionel SAINSBURY (b.1958)
Time of the Comet
Op.25 (1997) [12:35]
Reflective Thought Patterns
Patricia JULIEN
Among the Hidden
Jay A. KAWARSKY (b.1959)
Fastidious Notes
Jonathan Helton (alto saxophone - Kawarsky)
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Petr Vronský (Sainsbury; Julien)
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/Robert Ian Winstin (Muncaster)
Chicago Arts Orchestra/Javier Mendoza (Kawarsky)
rec. 2009/17, Reduta Hall, Olomouc; Czech Radio Studios, Prague; Nichols Concert Hall, Chicago

This Navona disc presents the listener with music by freshly imagined, traditional, melodic tonal voices: two American and two English. Once again Navona choose freshly away from the common repertoire rut.

Dr. Jay A. Kawarsky, Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Westminster Choir College, Rider University, Princeton, NJ, trained at Iowa State and Northwestern. His teachers included John Paynter and Alan Stout. He has immersed himself in the theatre world and has founded at least two Gay Men’s Choruses. There are many compositions in his catalogue, including Prayers for Bobby for choir, orchestra, narrator and soloists, a new symphonic band work, Red Training Reels, for orchestra And We All Waited…., for piano and orchestra Episodes, Grace Dances for string Quartet and Oboe and in 2018 is engaged in arranging a new accompaniment to Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes. His Fastidious Notes for slinky, sinuous-sweet alto saxophone and orchestra is a traditional entry. The language can be perceived as an extension of Copland out of RVW through Daugherty. The score works over the American folk-song Goodbye Old Paint. It's predominantly lyrical rather than overtly showy.

Among the Hidden is by Patricia Julien, a composer steeped, like Kawarsky, in the music-theatre world. In addition to musicals including O, Caligula!, Peter Pan, Arabian Nights and Coracles, Castanets, Cadaques, she has written for mixed-voice choral ensembles, solo voice and piano, orchestra, contemporary chamber ensembles, small jazz combos and big band. Her degrees are from Ithaca College, Manhattan School of Music, and University of Maryland. She is also very active as a jazz flautist. Her ways with the full orchestra in the mercurial Among the Hidden are traditional, silvery, light-hearted and grandiloquent on the one hand but minimalist alla Schnittke in the circular, three-note piano melody that kicks Among the Hidden out of silence and returns it there. When it does, this the motif is entwined in tendrils spun by her own instrument and other woodwind.

Clive Muncaster pursued at least twin tracks when he established the Churchill Memorial Concerts at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire and simultaneously developed a committed interest in Music Therapy. At Florida State he qualified as a Music Therapist and immigrated to the USA. He played first violin in the Winona State University Orchestra and while at Winona had his own radio show “Sounds Healthy”. Moving from location to location as career opportunities presented themselves, he moved to Princeton, New Jersey. He is now writing a book for Music Therapists. His Reflective Thought Patterns has an air of grandeur about it similar to that in which Arnold Rosner's music is clothed and also to be found in the more indomitable moments in Vaughan Williams. Muncaster's music is genial and in this case feels as if its patterned deliberations are focused on dance and variation forms. It makes play with distinct episodes for woodwind, marimba, vibraphone, and French horn until a towering energy is achieved that suggests Bach or Brahms.

The first item on the disc is by the English composer Lionel Sainsbury. He has already had some significant attention from record labels. Accordingly you can come to close quarters with his music for solo piano on Navona Sunlight & Storms (NV5951) and Andalusian Fantasy (NV5999) as performed by the composer. At another level his Violin Concerto on a grand eloquent scale can be heard as can the later Cello Concerto. Sainsbury was born in Wiltshire, England and studied composition with Patric Standford and had valuable more informal guidance from Rubbra, McCabe and Dutilleux. Time of the Comet - a sort of tone poem - was inspired by Hale-Bopp. The music, which again is traditional in idiom, is at first predominantly serene and suggests an absorption in eternity given that the comet's next visit to earth is down for c.4385 AD. The score opens vigorously achieving, at its close, sustained rising and risen majesty. The composer says the music is informed by “a wider notion of where it [the comet] may have travelled on its infinite journey through the universe”. Let's not get too carried away by imagery (my fault) for the composer assures us that "there is no ‘programme’, and … hopes that the work might also be listened to as a purely abstract piece." I think we will over the years hear more of Sainsbury and I look forward to each instance of his music stepping into my field of view and hearing. This score should satisfy and raise that expectation with listeners new to this composer.

Given the miscellany of performers and locales you might have misgivings about sound quality. In fact, there is little to choose between the four. The recordings are frank and supply plenty of punch and detail. There are hardly any notes with the CD apart from the usual discographical embellishment. For the missing element you need to travel to pages here and here. Apart from that, I would only criticise the fact that another work by another composer could have been accommodated on this disc to widen our horizons and no doubt please another aspirant.

Rob Barnett


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