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.