February 28, 2018
Notes to Loved Ones: Music for Strings and Piano
Yang Guo, viola. Michael Sheppard, piano.
Sara Jane Thomas and Marika Suzuki, violins. Lavena Johanson, cello.
Joshua Hong and Andrew Kwan, violins.
Total Time: 66:42
Chamber music by composer Peter Dayton is featured on this new Navona release. The selections here are representative intimate works that explore Dayton’s penchant for lyrically-arching melodies and more tonal harmony. One might even say this continues the thread of Neo-Romantic style with touches of modern harmony and technique along the way.
This is certainly true of the opening Fantasy for viola and piano. The music here is held together by a thematic thread that freely wanders through a variety of mood and harmonic colors across its brief span. It makes for a gentle entry into Dayton’s work and is one of his earlier pieces. This is followed by an equally personal string quartet, Moceaux des Noces. The three movement work began life as a single entity written for a friend’s wedding (hence one of the revels for the appropriate title for this album). It is a mostly gentle allegretto that gives way to a deeply moving centra adagio that is Dayton’s reflection on his parent’s own marriage. The final movement took its inspiration on a poem by Hart Crane, “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen.” The music works its way from more traditional harmonic expression to more deeply connected intervals and dissonance that feels a bit more troubled as we enter the third movement. This tension is broken with a slight increase in speed, but the more tortuous and romantic drama of the earlier movements is also revisited in this tightly-constructed work.
Dayton’s music often is inspired by visual art and this is what informs his violin sonata, Sonata “Los Dedicatorias”. In this case it was through the work of the Peruvian artist Fernando de Szyszlo and his family whom the composer met on a trip to Peru. Having spent several days with four generations of the artist’s family, Dayton crafted a four-movement work to represent musically the character of these and others he met during his stay. The result then is this interplay between interpersonal lyrical lines and a dialogue between the violin and piano. The latter sets the tone through the harmonic writing while the former moves along these longer arcs of material. The second movement, “Vicente y Fernanda”, picks up in tempo with an almost mesmerizing repeated motif that winds itself around the occasionally jagged solo line. But this eventually way to a stunning romantically harmonic moment as we enter into the third movement. Exploring the higher end of the register, this feels like a most intimate view of “Manuella y Noella” that is like someone seeing them from a distance. The piano is more restrained here with the music having an almost impressionistic quality. The final movement moves us into a more folkish feel, though a more intense one, as it begins. But soon the music takes off and continues to unpack these motivic segments that first appear in piano and then are tossed and expanded into the solo line.
The Variations for String Quartet is another way to explore Dayton’s compositional style. Here he continues to take motivic cells and create these arching lines. There is a bit more experimental material here, especially in the sparse pizzicato section. Harmonies in the bowed sections are denser here as well. In one sense, it is a bit of an overview of 20th-Century quartet writing, though not going quite to serial extremes.
The final work is a sonata for cello and piano. The composer notes that he wrote the solo part to also be playable on bassoon. It would indeed be interesting to hear how this change the character and tone of the work. The music explores more quartal/quintal writing in a work that shifts between the deeply introspective and tragic. Even as the piece moves into its final movement, this sense of loss continues with a conclusion that feels like one final gasp.
The music here is all quite accessible for those looking to explore new music for string quartet or interested in hearing a new violin or cello sonata. The performances here work quite well to get at Dayton’s sense of structure in his music from the smaller arc to those that move through the entire work.