01 February 2009

Peer Review

Here are a few more thoughts, after I've had a chance to listen several times. It's hard for me to characterize other composers, because our methods can be very different. However my impression is that he states and develops a series of motives which can later evolve into complete melodies (whereas my own style is to create full-bodied melodies, and then chop them up). His music also seems to be tonal and quite rich when he wants it to be, but his tonalities can also be very free. Square Dance (for clarinet quartet) is a good example of this. It's not a yeehaw hoe-down by any means; instead the title refers to the interplay of 4 similar instruments, although there is a nice little waltz in the middle.

Murmur of Many Waters for percussion ensemble also seems to be built on a series of motives. It's a nice shimmering work, but also quite lyrical which is surprising for percussion. The wood blocks were a bit too prominent, but otherwise this is a fine performance. I tried not to look at the titles before I heard these pieces, and this one seems like the gradual awakening of Earthly life at dawn. The motives stated at the outset are the first stirrings, and gradually the music builds on them into a lovely interplay.

To expand on what I already wrote about Canticle of St Nicholas, it is quite beautiful, with a sense of halting, poetic yearning. Personally it was a little too halting for me because I would have ultimately built it into a gradual final crescendo with the strings rising higher and higher to a final victory (much like Serious Song: Lament for String Orchestra by Irving Fine). However this illustrates the dangers when one composer auditions another composer's music, even a rank amateur like me. We tend to project our own ideas onto the music, which can be very misleading (no wonder Brahms and Tchaikovsky didn't care for each other, ha ha). Come to think of it, maybe I enjoyed this work the most because it engaged my own thought processes more than any other on the CD. If I strip away my own thoughts, I'd say that this is a very successful work, with almost a sense of Man's reach exceeding his grasp, always aspiring for something higher. No final victory, but perhaps something greater is implied. The opening chorale is particularly moving, as is the meditation for full strings from about 3:45 to 4:45, just before the modified restatement of the opening chorale. I was about to describe this meditation as a dramatic soliloquy because the full string ensemble speaks almost as a single multi-layered voice. No doubt about it, this piece is a gem, and I put it on repeat about 5 times when I first heard it. Karl, whatever you're doing, it's working!

I Sang to the Sky & Day Broke for concert band is another winner. The motives are stated immediately over rhythmic percussion. Once again, before looking at the title, I was reminded of the gradual awakening of Earthly life at dawn, and this time I was right. While this is a triumphal procession, it is gently restrained with a quiet exuberance, and all the better for it.

David Stybr, Engineer and Composer (9 Jan 05)

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