Welcome to…Inviting Worlds!

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WINEGLASS: Bonny Doon.1 WITTGRAF: A Marriage of Seasons.3 CAROLLO: Dark Days.2 BELET: Fantasia: Nocturne. R.E. BROWN: Expressions for Orchestra. BUENO: Two Moods: Dusk & Carnaval.3 VAN DER ROOST: Céad Míle Fáilte.3 COPPER: This Full Bowl of Roses, Part I 2 / 1Zagreb Festival Orch.; Ivan Josip Skender, cond. All others by Janáček Philharmonic Orch., cond. by 2Jiři Petrolik, 3Stanislav Vavrinek. Also featured: National Moravian Silesian Theater Choir (Carollo), Jakub Černohorsky, vln & Roman Buchal, fl-hn (Belet), Eddy Vanoosthuvse, cl (Van Der Roost) / Navona NV-6435

This is one of those curious but sometimes fascinating potpourri discs that the Parma-Navona-Ravello boutique label issues every once in a while, a potpourri of works by several different composers when said composers don’t have quite enough material, or money, to produce an album dedicated only to them. As I say, sometimes it works out fine and sometimes the results just sound like a curious mixture of parts that don’t quite fit together.

The only composer here whose work I was familiar with from prior releases is John Carollo, but when I sampled John Wineglass’ Bonny Doon, it sounded so interesting that I decided to take the plunge. The opening wasn’t very promising, a sort of soft string melody, but less than a minute in and the harmonies become quite complex indeed. Brass and winds are added to the mix, and before long Bonny Doon, which sounds as if there is a chorus in the background but doesn’t, had begun to make quite an effect on me. The composer describes it as an escapade through the eyes of birds, but of course it’s really his view of the birds’ view, and it eventually breaks out in a bit of an Irish reel. So these are probably Irish birds. It’s quite a fun piece although, after the introduction, there’s not much in it that’s really original-sounding.

Michael Wittgraf describes his A Marriage of Seasons as combining “musical sensibilities with objective mathematical processes in order to produce a final musical product that speaks to the emotions while maintaining organizational logic. The title of the work reflects this unlikely marriage.” This opens in an even edgier sound environment than the Wineglass piece, the difference being that it stays there and does not morph into an Irish reel. Various themes and motifs are introduced and then dropped, some of them swirling around in a kaleidoscopic fashion. Wittgraf has a keen ear for orchestral sonorities, working here in the “edgy-modern” environment that has become so familiar in recent years. Somehow, he manages to fit all of the pieces together to produce a crazy-quilt whole piece of musical cloth. In that respect alone, it is a remarkable piece, but there is more, such as the way Wittgraf continually shifts the orchestral balances around and the way he creates continuity with his musical material. This is truly an amazing piece, and I must give kudos to the sound engineer who recorded it; listening through headphones, you hear all sorts of unusual spatial relationships between the various groups of instruments. At a little past the halfway mark, for instance, we hear a chorus of French horns for the first time—and then they drop out, leaving it to low trombones (playing muted, I think, but perhaps not) holding a long chord while high winds and percussion create little, broken motifs above it all. A wild and creative piece!

John Carollo’s piece is a paean to all those who lost loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic, which certainly happened but not, thankfully, on a widespread scale. (The virus was much easier to catch and get really sick from than to die from.) Fortunately, he’s a good enough composer to make it work without sounding too maudlin. It opens with low trombones (and possibly horns) playing a sad motif in the minor with snare drum rolls and chimes behind it. The chorus sings a text written by Carollo about it being “the season of darkness.” Since Navona uses Eastern European musicians and singers to make their recordings, it’s a little funny to hear the Moravian-Silesian choir trying to sing in English (“Eat ease the see-zun of dourk-ness”); fortunately, the words are available online.

Brian Belet’s Fantasia: Nocturne is a dual piece, the first part representing “the play of imaginative invention” in which “the author’s fancy roves unrestricted: something possessing grotesque, bizarre or unreal qualities,” the second inspired by the night, “thought of as being tranquil, often expressive and lyrical, and sometimes rather gloomy.” The first part is a sort of round inwith the rhythmic melodic line repeated several times, against which lower instruments play a slower, more thoughtful theme. A solo trumpet (or flugelhorn or cornet—the sound is rather mellower than a regular trumpet) plays its own theme against the orchestra, then develops it into a sort of extempore solo of its own. It’s quite nice music, not very deep but pleasant to listen to without being saccharine. A solo viola aso steps out from the strings to make a few comments as the tempo decreases. I believe that this is the “Nocturne” section. This develops into a two-voiced fugue or canon, with the trumpet still coming in now and then to make comments. Everything melts into a nice nocturnal sort of glaze.

Richard E. Brown’s Expansion for Orchestra is modeled on “the way the music takes a few short motifs and, without using any of the common musical forms, develops or “expands” them into a complete composition.” It builds from a slow opening to a fast middle section and an even faster, more frenzied final section. I really liked the dark colors and orchestral timbres that Brown used in this piece to create an eerie mood in the first section. With a minimum of musical gestures, he created his own little microcosm. At one point in the first section, the strings, playing very softly, just sort of rise up into the air and evaporate in sound. The faster section grows organically out of the slow, retaining the menacing quality and taking it a bit further, including some contrapuntal effects. Then comes the fastest section, introduced by soft, swirling strings as an undercurrent; but there is suddenly a quiet moment, and the piece abruptly ends.

Two Moods: Dusk and Carnaval were written by Liova Bueno. The first section reflects his memories as a child in the Dominican Republic, and is full of lovely string figures around which some atonal winds swirl. Carnaval is supposed to represent the “big band meringue tunes” he heard, but they are completely transformed into something far more complex and, to my mind, more interesting. Despite the slowly increasing speed, there is very little suggestion of a Latino band playing meringues until rather late in the piece, and then they have a sort of Charles Ives quality about them.

Céad Mile Failte, which is Gaelic for “A hundred thousand welcomes,” is written by a composer with a Dutch name, Jan Van de Roost. The composer describes it best: “Both the clarinet and some solo string instruments display their musical skills via short cadenzas, often accompanied by aleatoric patterns. A short pseudo Irish dance with typical dotted rhythms and bagpipe-like reminiscences is being evoked in the central part, but the main character is contemplative and quiet.” It’s a very nice little piece.

We end our excursion with William Copper’s This Full Bowl of Roses, Part 1 which uses Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem Der Rosenschalle as its inspiration. (FYI, This Full Bowl of Roses, Part III was previously issued on the Navona album “Prisma – Vol. 5.”) Rilke’s poem is translated, in part, as follows:

Aren’t they all that way: simply self-containing
if self-containing means: to transform the world outside
and wind and rain and the patience of spring
and guilt and restlessness and muffled fate
and darkness of the evening earth

It opens with the celli playing an odd little theme above medium-soft tympani; the tempo increases as the music becomes more agitated. These must be some pretty aggressive roses, but I liked the music just the same. A repeated, serrated viola theme provides the rhythmic basis for a violin tune that emerges from the right channel. This is very nicely and tastefully done. Copper then develops his jaunty little melody as the roses become a bit friendlier…and then, before you know it, it’s all over!

A very nice CD containing some music that is pretty good, some that is very good, and a couple of pieces that are really outstanding. Welcome to their worlds!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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