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Craig Madden MORRIS (b. 1945)
Chamber Music for Our Times
Romance, for violin and piano [6:35]
String Quartet “Colors” [23:20]
Piano Quartet #1 “Johnny and Tony” [22:36]
Piano Quartet #2 “Moods” [18:10]
Eric Silberger, Ji-In Yang, Cindy Wu (violin)
Andy Lin (viola)
Nan-Cheng Chen (cello)
Han Chen (piano)
Rec. 2019, Samurai Hotel Recording Studio, Astoria, USA
NAVONA NV6310 [70:42]

Craig Morris, a native new Yorker, is a child psychiatrist, with a significant side interest in music, both as violinist in a number of local orchestras and as a composer. I am always cautious about “new” music, and in this case, this disc’s appearance on the review list provoked my interest mainly on the basis of whether it had any piano trios to add to my survey – it didn’t. Having made it to the Presto page for the disc, which included sound samples, I thought I might as well give it a listen. What I heard was approachable though modern, and some of it, for example, the sample of the opening Romance, seemed quite impressive. As it seemed as though it was not going to be reviewed by anyone else, I requested it.

Now having listened to it in full, the same impression remains: approachable with an acceptable level of modern dissonance thrown in to moderate the sweetness. There is a caveat, however. Basically, the opening minute or so of most, if not all, of the twelve tracks provide you with all you need to hear. In other words, if you listen to all the sound samples on Presto, you have heard all the best bits. It’s like one of those movies where it turns out that you saw all the funny lines in the trailer. There is not much else in each movement, and most last at least five minutes. By way of example, the finale of the String Quartet, titled Lively, starts off promisingly with a lissom phrase in the violins, backed by pizzicato cello, but it then stops abruptly and when it resumes, the new “melody” is dull and the rhythm anything but lively. After a while, the opening phrase returns, but the element of surprise has gone and it is no longer anywhere as interesting. This stop-start device continues for the whole movement, and becomes increasingly irritating. The slow movements were without doubt the most successful in holding my interest, but even they descended into cocktail lounge noodling at times.

In preparing the review header, I had to Google the composer’s birth year as it was not included in the notes, and was surprised to find that MusicWeb already had a review of an earlier release of his chamber music on the Ravello label (review). I was both heartened and disappointed to read Oleg Ledeniov’s comments, which could have easily been applied in their entirety to this release. His kindest description was that it was “listenable, if not actually memorable”. I could not have said it better. When he was being less kind, the music was described as “endless rambling” and that “I can stop this disc at any moment, and won’t have regrets or wish to know what will follow”, again mirroring my thoughts exactly.

The disc is housed in a slimline all-cardboard affair, environmentally friendly to be sure, but which is so tight, it is difficult to remove and replace the disc and the booklet. Not that there is much point in removing the latter – the notes provided by the composer on the four works run to fewer than 10 lines and are less than illuminating. Let me quote in full the notes on the first piano quartet: “This piano quartet explores the beautiful counterpoint, melody, and rhythms inspired by Brahms and Dvořák in their wonderful chamber music”. One assumes that the “Johnny” and “Tony” of the title are Johannes and Antonin. The other five pages are devoted to biographies of Morris, the performers, and even the copyist (that was a first). On the plus side, finding Oleg’s review meant that I was able to add Morris’s 2008 Piano Trio to my trio survey, as I had missed it first time round (though I haven’t felt the urge to listen to it).

David Barker



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