New John Carollo Release a Stunner

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MUSIC FROM THE ETHEREAL SIDE OF PARADISE / CAROLLO: Awakening for String Orchestra. Romanza!1 Splendido Affare.1 La Tortura dell’Amore.1 Un Giorno Teso.1 Metamorphosis No. 2 for Solo Violin.2 Guitar Prelude No. 3 – The Tai Chi Set.3 Guitar Etude No. 7 – The City of 100 Spires.3 Guitar Etude No. 9 – What Now?3 Little Gems.5 She Saw the Rainbow.5 Moon Dust.5 Crafted Stardust.5 Metamorphosis No. 13 for Solo Flute.1 Bright Stillness (You Are My Desire) for String Orchestra / 1Duo46; 2Darel Stark, vln; 3Christian Saggese, gtr; 4Lisa Cella, fl; 5The Composer’s Choir; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Stanislav Vavřínek, cond / Navona NV6148

This new CD from Parma of John Carollo’s music, due out March 9, combines earlier recordings of his music with two entirely new works, the string orchestra works “as bookends,” as the composer put it. The guitar and violin pieces are part of a large suite in nine movements titled Romantica Passione, Suite for Guitar and Violin (2004), which he dedicated to Beth Schneider and Matt Gould, who perform under the name Duo46. Lisa Cella, the flautist on this recording, also played the premiere of Carollo’s Metamorphosis No. 13 in Italy several years ago.

Happily, I did not own any of these recordings, thus I was able to enjoy and savor Carollo’s interesting and well-crafted sound world, beginning with the rather mysterious-sounding Awakening for String Orchestra in which a series of unusual chords lead into a slow-moving melodic line. This has a certain kinship to Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings, including a dramatic climax in the middle. The strings of the Moravian Philharmonic play this with exceptional feeling and outstanding tonal beauty. Romanza!, part of the suite written for Duo46, is in Carollo’s more contrapuntal style, using an ambiguous tonal base and strong backbeat counterpoint. I was particularly pleased in the way Carollo uses the guitar and the way Gould plays it, with hard downstrokes on the strings rather than in the usual soft, goopy manner of many classical guitarists. This style is evident in Splendido Affare, but this is more of a ballad, and in any case Gould varies his attack as the dynamics of the music change. I also liked the way this piece ended on an unresolved chord. In La Tortura dell’Amore I was impressed by Carollo’s use of the guitar’s middle range, almost as if it were a viola or a high cello, often strengthening its sound to bring it to the forefront. This is clearly an exceptional piece, including a swaggering 6/8 section in the middle and a long, slow finale.

In Un Giorno Teso, Carollo gives us a modern simulation of Leroy Anderson’s Syncopated Clock, filtered through his own aesthetic and including out-of-tempo passages of fantasia-like quality. The Metamorphosis for Solo Violin moves through serrated passages towards a more melodic section that is constantly interrupted by cheerful, rhythmic figures. It’s unusual playful music, sounding as if the violinist were inventing it as he or she was going along. Again towards the end the melodic section returns, changed somewhat, leading to a quiet finish.

This is followed by three guitar solos, Prelude No. 3 – The Tai Chi Set and Guitar Etudes Nos. 7 & 9. The former is the closest thing here to classic Spanish guitar style, hovering back and forth between A-flat major and minor. The second, subtitled The City of 100 Spires, is a chromatic piece in unsettled tonality that moves along with the lower strings playing a melodic-rhythmic accompaniment to the upper strings. It, too, ends in the middle of nowhere. The third guitar piece, Guitar Etude No. 9 – What Now?, begins with fast upward runs which form a recurring motif in the work, interspersed with serrated eighths and out-of-tonality licks. Eventually a melodic line appears out of this mixture, tying all of the elements together. Very interesting!

The choral works here are among the earliest of Carollo’s pieces, though not recorded until 2012. They are well written and resolutely tonal, almost in church motet style, albeit with unusual harmonic shifts within each piece. These are followed by the Metamorphosis No. 13 for Solo Flute, a well-crafted fantasy with Middle Eastern overtones. As the piece progresses, the flute plays its own accompaniment via rapid figures that bounce between the lower and upper range of the instrument. In addition, the development becomes ever more complex, putting the flute through some dazzling figures in the middle and end of the piece.

We conclude as we began, with the Moravian Philharmonic strings. Bright Stillness (You Are My Desire) uses a gentle rocking motif of chords, again in Barber-like fashion, which change as the music develops, hovering around the key of C. This is even more of a mood piece than the opener on this set, never moving towards or rising to a loud climax.

As potpourri albums go, this one is excellent in every respect, showing different facets of Carollo’s musical personality. Well recommended!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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