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Gernot WOLFGANG (b 1957)
Vienna and the West
Road Signs (2017) [8:15]
Passage to Vienna (2012) [15:33]
Route 33 (2014) [7:52]
Windows (2014) [13:42]
Impressions (2002) [17:47]
From Vienna With Love (2011) [5:30]
rec. 2018, Alfred Newman Recital Hall, University of Southern California, USA
ALBANY TROY1760 [68:45]

Gernot Wolfgang was born in Bad Gastein in 1957 but has lived in Los Angeles for a number of years where he has written numerous compositions and accepted commissions, and where he also teaches and works as an orchestrator in films and television. This album title, Vienna and the West, is subtitled ‘Groove-Oriented Chamber Music, Vol 4’ and if that’s not enough to intrigue, then I don’t know what is.

There are six works, written for variously sized chamber forces – ranging from a strictly instrumental solo piano piece via a duo, trios, piano quartet to a septet, called Impressions. Dates of composition range from 2002 to 2017. His bassoon and piano duo called Road Signs sports some angular but flexible lines for the serio-comic perambulations of the bassoon, but paragraphs of refined lyricism too, as well as an element of slight melancholy in its soliloquy. It rounds out a complete portrait of the instrument adeptly supported by piano. Passage to Vienna charts a stylistic journey to the city of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern and then back to America. The opening piano theme sounds weirdly like Mussorgsky’s Pictures for a brief moment and this rather Slavic element permeates some of the music. Wolfgang’s mastery of the ‘pizzicato bass’ is also evident here as the music is irradiated by jazz before it calms for slow refractive reflections of twelve-tone, notably from the anchoring piano. This in turns generates a bop mood, the cello-as-bass adding to the mix once again and creating driving, resinous fun.

Route 33 (great title; and there really is a Route 33) for solo piano is a kind of sectionalized dreamscape taking in paragraphs of calm, angularity, terse cubist eruptions, and a notably sonically splendid storm scene. It highlights Wolfgang’s ear for contrast within the continuum of a structured piece, qualities that reappear in Windows, for clarinet, bassoon and piano where he ensures that the music runs the gamut of refinement to slinkiness, its dappled pianistic sections contrasting with its jazz urgings.

The opening movement of Impressions sounds like a jazz-drenched film soundtrack, even when the strings intrude with an agitated melancholic outburst; soon back comes rhythmic drive. Another Wolfgang trademark is that he is fond of musical dreaming; the second movement is called precisely that – Dream. It’s a slow ghostly waltz with plenty of intense solos, from the horn in particular. Imagine a musical analogue to Hopper’s Nighthawks and that’s something of the effect here. To end there’s a country fiddle style finale – short, snappy and decidedly joyful. The album ends with From Vienna with Love for piano quartet which takes Mahler’s two-page sketch for the intended second movement of his 1876 Piano Quartet and runs with it. Viennese idioms coalesce with Austro-Hungarian rhythmic affiliations before the music expands to include jazz elements at mid-point. The finish is lusty.

These freewheeling pluralistic compositions cleverly weave the past and the present in a way that reflects well on both. Lineage is a strong component of Wolfgang’s writing, an inheritance that is honoured but flourishes in a new soil, or soils. It’s not a question of abandoning Vienna, more a case of Wolfgang returning to it anew, refreshed and thereby refreshing his own musical vocabulary. With excellent performers on board this is a groove disc that appeals to the heart and to the head.

Jonathan Woolf
Judith Farmer (bassoon): Nic Gerpe (piano); Road Signs
Tereza Stanislav (violin): Ben Hong (cello): Joanne Pearce Martin (piano); Passage to Vienna
Gloria Cheng (piano); Route 33
Edgar David Lopez (clarinet): Judith Farmer (bassoon): Nadia Shpachenko (piano); Windows
Edgar David Lopez (clarinet): Judith Farmer (bassoon): Amy Jo Rhine (horn): Tereza Stanislav (violin): Robert Brophy (viola): Andrew Shulman (cello): Steve Dress (double bass); Impressions
Marta Jasper White (violin): Robert Brophy (viola): Charles Tyler (cello): Robert Thies (piano); From Vienna With Love

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