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MEMENTOS: Modern Orchestral Works

Navona NC5816, 49:57,

Keith Kramer: Emerge
Stephen Yip: Raining in Autumn, for solo violin and orchestra*
Jason Barabba: Conjecture, for solo clarinet and orchestra
Shawn Crouch: City Columns*

Slovak National Philharmonic Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, cond.
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Vit Micka, cond.*

Review by Steve Koenig

This is a wonderful collection of unrelated orchestral works. Neither trendy nor reactionary, each of these is a solid work in its own right, and any of the four could fit proudly within any progressive orchestral bill. The first clocks in at twenty minutes, each of the following is ten. I'm going to file it on my permanent shelf under Orchestral: Mementos.

Keith Kramer's Emerge does just that; emerges from the primordial winds (wind machine, or is it brass mouthpieces?). Each mini episode emerges from the next. Stravinskian sharp rhythms, Pendereckian swirling glassandi but these are sandstorms. It builds, adding tubular bells, contrasting chords, constant tension and release. A break; more wind. Near-marches, martial rhythms. Is it Shostakovich's fear or the Blue Meanies? Slurs, harshness, gutteral brass. Internal dialogs. Bell-like high violin, tautness, and finally release, followed by wind.

My first encounter with Stephen Yip's work was only a month ago, his excellent string quartet Yi Bi on the Molinari String Quartet's Concours 2005-2006 album. Raining in Autumn starts with growling low brass, then Messiaen-ically clunky piano chords joined by strings cousin to Bartók's second violin concerto. It's strikingly beautiful. It runs the gamut of emotions, but never do I connect this with the given program: "the music evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of a damp October afternoon, along with the emotions that accompany such days."

Jason Barabba's Conjecture begins with a solo clarinet obbligato, as the others join in playing tag: swirling, soft strings; brass fanfares. The notes say "the solo clarinet and orchestra appear to be simultaneously inspired based on one another's ideas." Conjectures is not quite wistful but pensive. It's a strong work which doesn't show off; you have to accept it on its own terms.

The notes say Shawn Crouch's City Columns is "inspired by the art-deco architecture of New York, this percussive urban soundscape evokes a morning stroll through mid-town Manhattan," but I hear, instead, twentieth century French woodwinds, muted trumpets, and rhythms roaming from Villa-Lobos to John Adams. It begins with a low-brass jaunty rhythm which soon borrows post-minimalist patterns before wending its dance in other modes. It's a marvelous piece which, in a good way, seems longer than its ten minutes. My only plaint is the ending: a rapid winding down from the richness of a complicated polyrhythmic crescendo to a simplistic, tapping snare drum.

Above, when I referred to "the notes," I should have said "the press release," as there are no program notes about the individual works. In this case, it is for the better. The packaging is attractive, and there are excellent biographical notes on the four composers. My sole complaint: less than ten seconds of silence between each piece, denying the listener the possibility of savoring each work. This is unfair to all the composers. Nonetheless, sit back, listen, and enjoy.

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