New John Carollo CD Has Fine Music

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CAROLLO: The Rhetoric and Mythos of Belief. The Transfiguration of Giovanni Baudino. Let Freedom Ring. Do You Have an E.R. for Music? Symphony No. 2 (The Circle of Fire). Move Towards the Light (Your Destiny Awaits You) / Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Petr Vronsky, conductor / Navona Records NV6109

This album, which will be released on August 11, will be Parma Records’ 500th release and the first to also be available on LP for those who are into that.

Having become somewhat familiar with Carollo’s music through his previous release, Starry Night, I was a bit taken aback by his four-part Rhetoric and Mythos of Belief. For the most part, Carollo eschews his normal contrapuntal style in favor of slow, sad, meditative movements, all scored for strings alone. In the first we have a deeply-felt Adagio in the vein of Samuel Barber’s most famous piece. It is not a clone by any means—Carollo takes his theme in different directions with a different feeling for harmony—but it is a close cousin. It is also just as deeply moving and emotional. The second movement, marked “Animato – Largo,” returns us in the beginning to Carollo’s more familiar style, but this only lasts about 30-40 seconds. We are then returned to a slow tempo, but now the melodic line is more angular and the harmony spikier. The “animato” tempo recurs again towards the end.

The third movement, marked “Tranquillo (Existential Loneliness as a Background for Joy and Sorrow),” returns us to the sad mood of the first, as does the fourth “ Misterioso/Meditativo.” The last, titled “Intenso,” is just that, albeit not at a particularly fast pace. Overall, I liked some of the music in this suite very much but found some of the slow passages a bit too similar to one another.

I admit to having been baffled who Giovanni Baudino was, or how or why he became transfigured. If you Google it you’ll come up with people of that name born in 1899, 1905, and a living Giovanni Baudino on Twitter and Facebook. The closest I came was the Baudino Family Tree on Ancestry.com, where a Giovanni Baudino was apparently born and died sometime in the 18th century (no specific dates provided). Eventually the composer solved the riddle for me. He was a war orphan, and that was his original name before he was adopted by the Carollo family! The music, however, is superb, being simultaneously dramatic and quite chipper in mood. Here the orchestra seems primarily made up of brass (trumpets, trombones, French horns, tuba), winds, and piano. Carollo has a ball exploring “Baudino’s” transformation through a most imaginative score, although the music retains essentially the same mood throughout its 11-minute length depsite a slow passage towards the end. This piece and the following one were previously released as part of the Winter’s Warmth CD (Navona 6091).

Let Freedom Ring is a bit different, here using a full chamber orchestra, playing swirling string figures against slower-moving figures by the winds and brass. This piece was particularly imaginative in its scoring and its boisterous use of percussion. Yet even more creative, in fact on of the highlights of this CD, was the jocular Do You Have an E.R. For Music?, in which Carollo has fun bouncing around in syncopated figures which the Moravian orchestra has just a wee bit of trouble playing with the proper swagger.

We then arrive at his second symphony. This opens with a solo flute figure, picked up by oboe, which is then developed briefly by other winds. Interestingly, the music is light and playful, almost defying the title of the symphony, “The Circle of Fire.” Indeed, the lightweight scoring and humorous nature of the piece defies most people’s ideas of a symphony, period. This first movement (titled “A Recording is the Antithesis of His Aesthetic”) is almost a divertimento. Both the mood and scoring reminded me of the whimsical Polka from Shostakovich’s The Golden Age. The second movement, “Line and Polyphony,” is in a more serious vein but no less barely-scored or contrapuntal. Heavy brass “pushes” the beat along like a steamroller. The last movement (“The Rein Which Resists Allegory Run Riot”) is in a much faster tempo, playing the instruments against one another in a continuous line of music. This movement was particularly well conceived, and ends in a riot of humor.

The album concludes with Move Towards the Light, which returns us to the more ethereal, sedate mood of the opening work. For me, personally, this was even more beautiful and moving, a simply luminous work that probes one’s inner feelings quite deeply.

If I may be permitted an observation that is more about the performance than the compositions, it didn’t seem to me that the orchestra had much rehearsal time or was comfortable with some of this music. In other words, I found myself having to judge the music—which, of course, was entirely new to me—from performances that were clean and professional but sometimes lacked a good rhythmic “bounce.” These things happen in the recording world nowadays, and I understand that, but I couldn’t help feeling that some of these pieces (particularly the Second Symphony) would sound much better in the hands of an orchestra comfortable with its rhythms and musical syntax.

Overall, however, a fine recording, well worth exploring!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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