There is something to be said for an orchestra playing something for the first time. And one doesn't get to experience that phenomenon very often. Professional orchestras across the world can play the standard repertoire in their sleep. And too often their playing sounds like it. It's rare to find a recording which springs to life with the freshness and spontaneity of new discovery. Which brings me to the present recording - Beethoven played by a community ballet orchestra led from the keyboard by an excellent pianist.
First a disclaimer - I received this disc gratis from the public relations firm representing pianist Eugene Albulescu, in consideration for a possible review.
This CD appears on a label unfamiliar to me - AMP Recordings. And the pianist, Eugene Albulescu, is also an unfamiliar name. As to the orchestra...well, my eyebrows raised when seeing it named as "Orchestra of Friends". Reading the excellent booklet, I find the "Orchestra of Friends" is actually the orchestra which serves the Ballet Guild of Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's production of Nutcracker (and others). It is a chamber orchestra, with a reduced compliment of strings, and our pianist is their conductor. For these Beethoven concertos, he leads them from the keyboard.
Right from the opening tutti, this ensemble does tend to sound a little bit like an accomplished community orchestra. But the only real issue of note is a lack of real power in tuttis/forte passages. But then - something begins to happen. I hear an unmistakable enthusiasm in their playing; a sense of irrepressible joy which is so often missing from recordings of these over-familiar warhorses. I found myself drawn into the music in such a way that any lack of refinement in the playing itself was soon forgotten. And when the pianist enters, I was hooked. Although, I was hesitant at first. In the very first few bars, Mr. Albulescu exhibited a touch of mannerism. And I am not always convinced by his touches of extraneous ornamentation here and there in the 3rd movement. But, happily, I hear it only occasionally, and he quickly gets down to the business of simply playing Beethoven. And play Beethoven he does! This is some seriously good piano playing.
All through, I found the playing of all involved to be more than accomplished. The precision of articulation was impressive. And I especially enjoyed the lovely tone of the first flute and bassoon players. I was bothered occasionally, however, by the oboe tone, which does not blend with the other woodwinds.
As to performances, I have only one real reservation: the opening allegro con brio of the 1st. It is a bit sluggish. I kept wishing it would move along with a quicker tempo and a little more brio. But the 3rd movement Rondo compensates - it takes off like a wildfire and crackles with energy to the very end! This orchestra is definitely up to the challenge. Their unanimity of ensemble and precision of articulation are impressive. And the piano playing all through is characterful, crisp and extremely accomplished.
Moving on to the 5th, the opening movement is taken at a true allegro, and bursts forth with joy and exuberance. Only during the opening violin statement does the reduced number of violins reveal itself as detrimental, which sounds undernourished. However, that is quickly forgotten as the sweep of the music-making carries one along at a cracking tempo. Similarly, the final Rondo is very well done. Both slow movements are free-flowing at well-chosen tempos, never dragging, but singing sweetly with a natural expression.
The recorded sound is very good, although not entirely complimentary. The up-close perspective and slightly dry acoustic provide dramatic presence and detailed articulation, but leave any slight imperfections in the playing nowhere to hide. A little more richness would have benefitted this string section. But once the ear adjusts, the immediacy and sheer energy of the music-making are most satisfactory.
The production is first class, with a beautiful, substantive booklet, complete with pictures and plenty of details regarding the music and performers.
Summing up, the competition in these concertos is dauntingly fierce. And indeed, I listened to this disc immediately after the marvelous complete set from Bavouzet on Chandos. The magnificence of those recordings puts subsequent recording at a distinct and unfair disadvantage. However, any reservations I might have had going into this were quickly forgotten and the music-making proved the old adage to be absolutely true: "Don't judge a book by its cover". Mr. Albulescu is a real talent. His piano playing is fabulous, and his leadership of this chamber orchestra is assured. The life and joy he brings to these concertos is refreshing.
I listened to this 2015 Naxos disc several years ago, but just discovered I never got around to posting a review of it here. Listening to it again, I can understand why. It is enjoyable in its way, but not in any way motivating or inspiring.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra plays well enough and Lance Friedel leads them competently. But, it all sounds as if their hearts are not really into it. Friedel establishes perfectly acceptable, sensible tempos. And it's clear the orchestra is sight-reading; they scramble a bit here and there, with less than perfect ensemble. Unfortunately none of this lends a feel of spontaneity as it should. Rather, there's a curious sense of ho-hum detachment, almost disinterest, all through this program. Quite simply, it lacks the sheer verve and unbuttoned high spirits that Arthur Fiedler (Boston Pops) and Leonard Bernstein (NY Phil) brought to this repertoire. (They both recorded nearly all of these overtures in the late 50s/early 60s for RCA and CBS, respectively - all of which are readily available on various compilation CDs.)
The sound on CD is good, without being excellent. It needs a little more spaciousness and air. By the end, I was tiring a bit of the somewhat cramped, cavernous acoustic and slightly congested textures. A quick sampling of some 50-year-old Fiedler and Bernstein CDs highlights it even further.
I was intrigued to hear Naxos's companion Blu-ray release of this very same program. In sum, it does sound better than the CD. It is less brash, more refined, spacious and natural. The Blu-ray offers DTS surround and 2-channel PCM. Unfortunately, the improvement in sound does nothing to improve the readings themselves. They still sound routine.
The title of this disc, "Great Comedy Overtures", actually illustrates exactly what's missing here: these do not sound in the slightest comedic, or even very much fun. It's all perfunctory and determinedly serious. Still, it does fill a gap in modern digital recordings of this repertoire. And it is enjoyable enough to listen to while, perhaps, cleaning the house or preparing dinner. So it has its place. But do go for the Blu-ray if you have the necessary equipment.
I read a review on Amazon which described these readings as small-scaled, and therefore "different", simply because a chamber orchestra is used. Listening to these SACDs, I found the Swedish Chamber Orchestra to be perfectly satisfactory in body and presence. The full-bodied, dynamic Chandos sound more than compensates for the reduced number of string players. And their precise, incisive playing is spectacular. The same applies to Bavouzet's incredible piano playing. It's so refreshing to hear such clarity, detail and precision, with minimal pedaling.
Tempos throughout are sensible, energetic, crisp, alert and alive. I'd even go so far as to say jubilant. The feel of spontaneity and new discovery is ever present. (The 1st movement of the 5th, taken at a true Allegro, sounds positively exhilarating.) And mercifully, slow movements do not drag, but sing in a most natural, flowing way.
The glorious Chandos recording affords this group plenty of body, color, energy and dynamic impact - without weighing it down and muddying the piano, as is so often the case. The resultant soundstage reveals one big advantage to using a chamber orchestra: the engineers did not need to spotlight the piano. It's naturally placed right there in the midst of the players. Taken as a whole, the sound, perspective, clarity, hall acoustic, and especially the playing from all involved, are most impressive. These are just about the best recordings of these concertos I can ever remember hearing.
The only negative I observed is a slightly out of tune piano on certain notes in the right-hand range (most notably in mvts. 2 & 3 of the 1st). It's not excruciating, but enough to let you know your tweeters are doing their job.
The Grand Quintet for piano and winds, which fills out disc 3, was an absolutely splendid choice and a thoroughly delightful addition to the usual canon. Indeed, it's the highlight of the set for me, being played and recorded as beautifully as it is. For once, the horn does not overpower, and the entire performance brings much pleasure. I found myself smiling all through it.
So perhaps what others may hear as "different", is simply hearing more of Beethoven. More energy, more life, more detail, more precision, more singing lines and more natural expression. Compared to the usual run-of-the-mill, mass-produced releases from the big labels, this indeed is different. In the best ways imaginable. And it is certainly a vast improvement in every way over Pentatone's 2019 set with Inon Barnatan, who is let down by plodding orchestral support under Alan Gilbert and shockingly mediocre CD-only recorded sound by Pentatone.
This is the set of Beethoven Piano Concertos for a new generation of listeners. But don't stream it; don't YouTube it; don't MP3 it. Buy the discs, especially while Chandos is still giving us SACDs. It is simply wonderful in every way.
I can be brief.
Look carefully before laying down your heard-earned money for this one. The front cover implies more than it is. The back cover reveals this is a mish-mash, cobbled-together, bleeding-chunks excerpt from the ballet, lasting a whopping 43 minutes. At full price.
Record companies cry that no one is buying CDs these days. Well...this is a perfect example why.
Shame on Signum Classics.
I have collected many complete Mendelssohn Quartet sets over the years. I have yet to find one that is completely satisfactory.
For sheer musicianship and listening pleasure, the set played by the glorious Pacifica Quartet is simply the best I have heard. And it's beautifully recorded.
I find too many recordings of these marvelous quartets to sound a bit aggressive, a bit gruff, a bit forward and in-yer-face. And I am at a loss as to why that is. Sometimes it's the playing (the cello is often the culprit); sometimes it's the recording itself (too close and forward); sometimes it's both. But this one from Cedille Records gets everything right. The playing is sweet, yet vigorous when called for. Specifically, this first violin plays with a lovely, singing sound; and this cellist makes his presence felt with firm, wooden tone - but never sounds gruff or aggressive.
The interpretations flow from a unified source of inspiration and always sound completely natural and spontaneous. Slow movements don't drag; minuets smile with charm; prestos/allegros are exhilarating - quick and fleet, but never breathless. Perhaps "light" is a good word - as in, the opposite of heavy. But most of all, these readings are infused with graciousness. And it suits Mendelssohn perfectly. The warm recording compliments the playing beautifully. The acoustic places the group at a perfect perspective within the hall, with a tangible presence, but with plenty of space and air around the players.
Do not hesitate to acquire this set. It is truly wonderful in every way. The only thing I could have wished for was a 4th CD containing the Quintets.
The other set I am listening to, from the Mandelring Quartett, does give us that extra disc including the 2 Quintets. That is a big plus in its favor. However, despite the nice, complimentary review quotes Audite found to print on the back of this box, I wouldn't call this set "definitive". Gramophone likes it for whatever criteria they use to like or dislike recordings (which, in my experience, is often not based solely upon musical merits).
I've tried listening to this set several times. But, as much as I want to love it, I always come away feeling a bit chilly. This group plays all the notes - expertly. But something is lacking. It's a natural warmth and apparent love for this music that I miss. Instead, I hear a kind of detached coldness. And the close recording perspective doesn't help, making it a touch aggressive. This music certainly doesn't lend itself to that kind of treatment. Energy, yes! But a forward pushiness - no.
The Quintets are more satisfactory. The extra warmth provided by a second viola is just what's needed. I will hang on to this set for this 4th disc alone.
It's worth noting, the original Audite single releases were multi-channel hybrid SACDs. The 4 discs in this box are standard stereo CDs. This alone may actually be exacerbating the chilliness and the feeling of being too close to the players. I have not heard the SACDs, so cannot compare.
The playing of the Mandelring Quartett is accomplished and at all times professional. Tempos are logical and musical. I just wish their playing expressed a bit more feeling and warmth.
Unfortunately, this Respighi trilogy doesn't quite attain the magnificent achievement heard in this team's recording of the Korngold Symphony. It's well played. It's well recorded (although on the rich, plush side). And it's a multi-channel hybrid SACD - which we can't take for granted; they are becoming rare these days.
In many ways this reminds me very much of this team's earlier Escales collection - all very lovely and colorful, but not terribly exciting. John Wilson and the Chandos sound engineers go for atmosphere above all else. This makes for an enchanting, even magical, Pines near a Catacomb - with the superbly distanced solo trumpet (beautifully played) floating evocatively above the strings. But the finale, even with the extra brass, disappointingly fails to bring down the house as it should. It's smooth, civilized and thoroughly controlled. As is the final section of Festivals, where there is precious little festivity. But then again, the atmospheric central sections are very well done indeed.
Fountains is the highlight of this disc for me, which brings out the very best from this conductor's straightforward approach. Amazingly, this piece benefits enormously when freed from the excessive emoting and rubato so many conductors heap upon it. Respighi knew exactly what he was doing with his magnificent orchestrations, and Wilson lets it speak for itself. And he definitely gets the blood pumping in the 3rd movement (The Trevi Fountain at Midday), which builds to an overwhelming climax, with the organ making a colossal impact. Wow!
If only this adrenaline rush flowed as freely elsewhere. While the colorful atmosphere impresses greatly, I nonetheless came away feeling a bit blah - admiring the plush sound, but wishing for a more enthralling experience.
DG has really been making a feast out of John Williams in recent years. There was the 2-disc live concert from Dudamel in L.A. Then Anne-Sophie Mutter's concert of easy-listening arrangements last year, and now this one with the maestro himself. All of this coming from DG. I sense there is money to be made in the John Williams name!
Looking at this latest disc...I have to wonder what it is with DG's endless infatuation with Anne-Sophie Mutter. Is she really that big of a star that she becomes the draw for these John Williams albums? Their first venture, Across the Stars, was star-power marketing at its worst - with syrupy elevator Muzak arrangements made just for her. And as if we didn't get our fill of her, DG brings her back again for this album, for one more track - a super-star solo (!) in Devil's Dance from The Witches of Eastwick. OK; it's not bad. At least it's not a sleepy Muzak arrangement. Mr. Williams has expanded it into a rather effective mini-concertpiece for violin and orchestra (although I much prefer the original soundtrack version). But, Mutter's playing of it is head-scratching. She starts off gang-busters - aided by an alarming boost in the volume level and a ridiculously spotlit microphone placement, thrusting her well out in front of the orchestra. But a minute in, she slams on the brakes and slows down the tempo - apparently realizing she can't play it all that fast. And a minute later, she slows it down some more! And John Williams, ever the consummate professional, does his very best to follow her and drags his orchestra down with her. I can just envision him looking over at her and shaking his head wondering what she's doing. This might have been a real treat if they had let the Vienna Phil's concertmaster play it.
Then there's DG's production. With her one little solo lasting just under 6 minutes, the booklet is nonetheless an embarrassment of Mutter-adoration. Pictures of her playing her fiddle begin on page 4, and continue throughout the booklet. We get a 2-page centerfold spread of her in front of the orchestra (as if in a major violin concerto) on pgs. 8/9; another similar centerfold on pgs. 16/17; single full-page shots on pg. 24; AND yet another one on the back cover! She's also featured in a big picture inside the fold-out cardboard CD enclosure where it appears she's wiping away a tear! One would think this was her triumphant debut at Carnegie Hall with a world premier violin concerto. They even go so far as to list her as featured on the final track (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Why? There is absolutely zero violin solo passagework. The booklet "clarifies" she's merely playing along with the first violin section there. Give me a break.
Fortunately, the rest of the disc is pure John Williams. And mercifully, original scores and soundtrack suites have been used. I am thrilled for him that he was given the opportunity to conduct one of the finest orchestras in the world. The booklet tells us the orchestra was pleased to venture into unfamiliar territory. But...
That being said, it all sounds a bit tired. Or perhaps serious is a kinder word. Leading an orchestra which lacks experience in this genre and thus not invigorating it with their own inherent feel for it, Mr. Williams is, for the very first time, beginning to sound his age. Tempos are consistently on the slow side and this sounds very much "symphonic". And grandiose. But not terribly "cinematic". It lacks the sheer verve and exhilaration we are used to hearing in these scores. This certainly isn't a festive Boston Pops concert! And it sounds nothing like a live event (thanks in part to DG's editing - more on this below). But it is gloriously played. The familiar Vienna Philharmonic's burnished brass shine; and the silky violins sing ever so sweetly. And they play with a precision of articulation (but not necessarily of ensemble) that Dudamel's LA Phil can't match on their live recording of this music. But it's just so heavy. It sounds, well, Germanic.
Unfortunately, DG's recorded sound doesn't help. Other than the outrageous boost in volume and presence for Devil's Dance, noted above, the remaining tracks set the orchestra back within a huge, rather swampy acoustic. There is also a lot of unnecessary spotlighting - the horns for example; and the first desk of 1st violins (which is weird); and the flutes here and there. I'm sure the engineers were simultaneously trying to mitigate audience noise while retaining some sense of presence and focus. They were very successful with the former - they have completely eliminated the cheers and wild applause evidenced on the YouTube video of the live concert. But that does tend to further diminish the sense of occasion. And the resultant sound palette suffers - which is simply too reverberant and heavy for this music.
There are highlights, though, namely Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back - which is awesomely effective here. At this tempo, the sheer weight and power of the deep brass and low strings make this as menacing as you'll ever hear it. Just compare it to Dudamel's slick read-through in LA and you'll immediately hear the difference.
So we have a bit of a mixed bag. While it's a triumph for Mr. Williams to lead this concert, it's not a very good recording. And DG's glossy marketing of Mutter degrades it. But I suppose they have to do whatever necessary to turn a profit on it. And I, for one, did actually purchase this CD. But, frankly, I will probably never listen to it again. When in the mood for John Williams, I will turn to every other recording he has ever made of his music (on Philips and SONY) for a more satisfying movie-music experience. And better recorded sound too.
There is also a blu-ray video release of the live concert from which the CD recording is derived. I have not seen it, but I have viewed several selections which are available on YouTube. It is by far the better option to fully appreciate this Vienna concert.
Having enjoyed Volume 4 in this series of recordings entitled: "groove-oriented chamber music", I needed to hear more. So I jumped at Volume 3, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016. It is, if anything, even finer than its successor, and more fully encapsulates the "groove" theme of these discs. These works exhibit a greater rhythmic drive and energy than the more lyrical selections on Vol. 4. And I found them even more compelling, irresistible and, frankly, thoroughly addicting.
Let me cut right to the chase - Mr. Wolfgang's string quartet, String Theory, is an absolute masterpiece. It was commissioned in 2013 for the Los Angeles chamber music series and is simply one of the best pieces of contemporary chamber music I've heard since discovering the music of Guillaume Connesson several years ago. Unlike so much of contemporary music (especially chamber music), this isn't just a bunch of meaningless notes, going nowhere. Not for an instant does Mr. Wolfgang's inventive genius wane. The creative inspiration is everywhere present - and adorned in the most alluring orchestration. Color, textures and mood-changes are as varied as it gets, making this one of the most interesting new works to listen to. I hear hints of Bartok all through, which bring delights aplenty. It was not until after listening twice that I took time to read the booklet and discovered this was intentional - the 1st movement "Bela" is indeed an homage to Bartok. But I found the slow movement, Northern Lights, to sound especially Bartokian. And it is mesmerizing. The 2nd movement, Cartwheels, is all pizzicato, which is endlessly fascinating, especially as played so convincingly here by the New Hollywood String Quartet. The entire work prompted a 2nd listen; then a 3rd. Fantastic!
But the glories of this collection don't end there. Another masterpiece, of even greater accomplishment, appears in the form of his piano quintet, New England Travelogue. Once again, we are treated to the most engaging variety of mood and colorful orchestration, with the addition of the piano. And I must make special mention of the fabulous piano playing of Joanne Pearce Martin, who impressed me so greatly in Volume 4 as well. It's not that it's a difficult piece to play; she just makes such music out of it - wonderfully singing, helped by the clear, resonant recording acoustic. And the playing of the Eclipse Quartet is beyond reproach. I again had to listen to it more than once.
The remaining pieces feature the fantastic bassoon playing of this series' co-producer (and Wolfgang's wife), Judith Farmer, in combination with various instruments. Flurry is with piano; Passing Through with oboe; and Trilogy with both. Expecting these three works to all sound very similar, they are not. I am once again amazed at the variety of inspiration and creative accomplishment. Each is a unique and richly rewarding work in its own right.
Fortunately for Mr. Wolfgang, the playing throughout this disc is absolutely superb. Not only are these musicians as professionally accomplished as it gets, but they are totally committed to this music. And Albany once again provides recorded quality of the very highest order. Modern chamber music simply does not get any better than this. Buy it if you can find it. These discs are readily available via MP3 and streaming, but are becoming very hard to find on CD.
I was in the mood for something different when I found this CD collecting dust on my shelf, previously unopened. It dates from 1981 and is long out-of-print, but it happily it led me to discover a more recent (2000) recording on Ondine, which prompted this write-up of both discs.
Pro-Arte produced some fine recordings in the 80s, many of which were later reissued on various satellite labels (Intersound, Maxiplay, etc.) in "surround sound". They were among the first "audiophile" labels (along with Telarc) which attempted to make better-sounding CDs than the standard digital fare from the majors, which often did not sound all that good on the early CD playback of the time. (Remember those rack systems that you could find everywhere, like Penny's, Sears, and KMart?!) This label also attracted some pretty good names, such as Eduardo Mata, Gerard Schwarz, Eric Kunzel, and others.
However, this title seems to be sort of a one-off. A fairly obscure piece by a second-rate Russian composer, played by a no-name violinist with a second-tier orchestra - it's actually just the kind of recording I'm usually drawn to! But alas, these performers do not make a very convincing case for this wonderful piece, despite the review quotes they found somewhere to print on the back cover...Ha!
Taneyev's Suite de Concert for Violin and Orchestra, requires true musical insight, passionate inspiration and dedication to bring it off. Maybe that's why it's so rarely recorded. Unfortunately, it does not receive it here. Christian Altenburger is a good player, but not much more than that - not quite what we would classify as "world class". The main problem is that his intonation is insecure throughout - painfully so, at times. The Vienna Symphony (not to be confused with the magnificent Vienna Philharmonic) sounds like they're sight-reading the score, which I'm sure they are; I doubt they had played it before. I suspect rehearsal time was very limited, and it sounds like it. Conductor Yuri Ahronovitch brings his usual level of pedestrian reliability to the proceedings - detached and disinterested.
The recording is typical of the house-sound Pro-Arte was known for - overly warm and rich, engulfed in a very reverberant acoustic. So it is a pleasant listen, but in no way revealing of the glories inherent in this music.
Intrigued, I searched my shelves again and found another unopened recording of it. It is a 2000 Ondine release, played by violinist Pekka Kuusisto with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic. And it is a revelation. Miraculously, this piece comes to life as never before, revealing it to be a true masterpiece for this composer. I credit Ashkenazy for elevating this performance to the lofty heights it achieves here - in stark contrast to the ho-hum results Ahronovitch manages for Altenburger. The Tchaikovskian fire and drama burst forth in Helsinki. And Kuusisto's playing has all the passion and assured effortlessness Altenburger lacks. Ondine's superior recording helps significantly as well, being much more open, lively, airy, sparkling and dramatic than the woolly Pro-Arte.
I hate to dis an out-of-print, innovative title from a defunct record label such as this one on Pro-Arte. But recordings of this work are relatively rare, so it does possess value. And it certainly provides a striking contrast with the one on Ondine, which in comparison, is simply magnificent. Ondine also offers 2 significant (if less satisfying) couplings, which the Pro-Arte does not.
I love discovering new 21st Century music. Over the past few years, I have gained much pleasure from composers such as Guillaume Connesson, Joseph Phibbs, Kenneth Fuchs and Paul Patterson. Another potential candidate for the list is a name completely unfamiliar to me, Gernot Wolfgang. For the record, I was contacted by Mr. Wolfgang offering to send me this CD, gratis, with consideration for a review. I eagerly accepted the offer.
This is a somewhat difficult disc for me to describe in words, simply because Mr. Wolfgang displays such a unique compositional voice. I usually try to connect to new music by relating it to other composers with which I'm familiar. That is simply impossible here - in a very good way. It's all so refreshing, new, interesting and involving, I have a hard time turning it off. And each piece is completely different from its companions. Not for an instant does this music sound all the same; nor does it turn into atonal noise; nor is it a jumble of meaningless notes. Every phrase has a musical purpose and is musically creative and rewarding.
The album is subtitled "Groove-Oriented Chamber Music, Vol 4". And as I listen, I don't really hear whatever I was expecting from that description. Involving, yes. Energetic, yes. Rhythmic, yes. But "grooving"? I actually am more impressed and moved overall by its sheer musicality - its lyrical, melodic inspiration - which is rather rare to find in "new" music. And that's OK, because I really like this music, no matter how it's described.
Up first on the program is something I wasn't expecting to like much; I'm not a huge fan of solo bassoon music. But on the contrary, Road Signs actually turned out to be one of my favorite works on the entire program! I was struck by three salient characteristics in this work: 1. absolutely superb playing from bassoonist Judith Farmer (who I read is also a co-producer of this CD); 2. absolutely gorgeous Albany recording (which distinguishes this entire CD) - intimate, "present", and perfectly focused within a warm, yet clear acoustic; 3. most importantly, that unique, musical compositional voice, establishing Gernot Wolfgang as the real deal. (And he doesn't need me to point that out: his Volume 3 in this series was nominated for a Grammy!)
Passage to Vienna, for piano trio, instantly reminded me of Piazzolla. However, I hasten to add, this is a much more accomplished piece than any I've experienced from Piazzolla. But the flavor is similar - at first. It doesn't take long for Wolfgang to venture out into his own, very unique territory, proving again what a skillful, inventive composer he is. There is a sensational combination of moods here, from musically singing, lyrical passages, shifting to energetic, rhythmic propulsive ones. And I am once again struck with the superb musicianship of these performers (especially pianist Joanne Pearce Martin) and the excellence of the recorded sound.
Route 33 was probably my least favorite; but I nonetheless enjoyed it and it is well played by pianist Gloria Cheng.
I was happy to see Judith Farmer return for Windows, a trio for clarinet, bassoon and piano. Another very interesting work, again not "groove-oriented" to my ears, beginning with achingly lyrical expression at first, then with more rhythmical interjections in the central sections. In all honesty, I found this work a bit overlong (13:42); it did not command my attention to same degree the other pieces did.
Next comes a true masterpiece - Impressions, for clarinet, bassoon, horn, and string quartet (just one violin, but adding a bass viol). Now this one Grooves! In the first movement, Carnival in Venice, we hear infectious, jazzy rhythms, with moments here and there reminiscent of Poulenc's fabulous Sextet. The 3rd movement, Country Road, is similar, but with the jaunt of a good ol' American cowboy! It's far too short (just 2 minutes); I wanted more. These outer movements flank a passionate, lyrical central movement, Dream. Wolfgang's varied, inventive and colorful orchestration makes me long to hear an orchestral work of his. (I have not explored his music enough yet to discover any, although I have heard a fabulous work for concert band, entitled Three Short Stories.)
Last on this disc is From Vienna With Love, for piano quartet. Another involving, interesting and inventive piece, bringing the program to a rousing finish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
All in all, I enjoyed this disc very much and listened to it straight through, twice. The compositional inspiration is apparent everywhere. And the inventive orchestration is endlessly interesting and compelling. Mr. Wolfgang has me hooked, and I'll need to acquire the earlier volumes in the series. I cannot praise highly enough the accomplishments achieved here - the music, the performers (all Los Angeles-based professionals), and the recorded sound. A composer simply cannot be rewarded more highly than with this level of excellence from all involved.