June 7, 2019

  • Facets of Modern Music Appear Through Prisma 2


    Prisma 2: Contemporary Concertos & Works for Orchestra
    Iliana Matos, guitar. Zagreb Festival Orchestra/Miran Vaupotic
    Barbara Hill, flute. Petr Nouzovsky, cello.
    Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Petr Vronsky, Stanislav Vavrinek
    Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiri Petrdlik
    Navona Records 6232
    Total Time:  52:31
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Prisma 2 brings together five new works for orchestra, three of which also feature soloists, in this new release from Navona.  The recordings were all made in the last year.

    The album opens with a concerto for guitar and string by James Lentini.  Written in 1996, the three movement work features a blend of modal and traditional harmony, though often with more open intervals.  The first movement “Andante” has a sunnier quality with motive that helps unify it.  The central adagio takes on a slightly more somber tone with dissonance hovering at the edges and adding an emotional depth.  The final movement brings us back to more technical display with some interplay with the orchestra and an excellent cadenza that adds to the heart-warming quality of Lentini’s style.  Words cannot do justice to Iliana Matos’ interpretation and performance here.  The music’s accessibility makes for an immediately engaging opening to the album with the performances here certainly among the finest in Navona’s catalogue.  The recording is stunning as well with a perfect balance of the soloist.  As the most substantial work on the album, it is certainly well worth the price of admission to what follows.

    Two shorter works for soloist and orchestra are interspersed with orchestral pieces.  First is Rain Worthington’s Full Circle.  The piece blends the cello solo with the orchestra in a more meditative work.  The orchestra is like a memory out of which solo ideas come to the forefront only to recede back into the texture.  The musical style is more contemporary than the opening work with fascinating timbral qualities and sounds explored in the fabric of the music while a particular line moves through them.  It makes for a rather intriguing and moody work with the dark colors of the cello heightening the dramatic flow of the music.  The performances here are superb bringing out Worthington’s expressive musical qualities well.  Peter Castine’s Aperture is constructed like a Baroque concerto grosso with a flute solo and string quartet set against the orchestral string ripieno group.  Because of this, the music tends to have a more intimate, and yet denser texture.  The three groups are in far greater opposition as the piece opens as if they are coming from quite separate directions often clashing together with pizzicato sections or sudden harmonic clusters signal a possible new direction.  The music is striking with its unrelentless intensity that also includes spoken text of encouragement and frustration.  All serving as an emotional response to the 9/11 attacks.  This is music at the opposite end of the spectrum from Lentini’s opening work.  Here, all sense of brightness has been removed as dense clusters and dissonance struggles against small cells of music trying to break through, or away.

    Camerata Music (1990-orchestral version) by Jan Jarvlepp was premiered by the University of Ottawa Orchestra and subsequently by the Ottawa Symphony.  It takes some of its inspiration from Columbian folk music which infuses the work with a host of percussion and hand clapping, coupled with interesting rhythms.  The music works to provide contrast to what precedes it on the album.  Jarvlepp’s opening lyrical line moves against these rhythms exploring different solo expressions of the primary idea in gradually growing layers while the percussive elements punctuate and add rhythmic interest.  The album closes with Beth Mehocic’s Left of Winter (2014).  This seven-minute work was commissioned to serve as a prelude to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  The piece though is also a reflection of young men going off to war as they head to the train station.  As they contemplate their lot, there is a sense of nostalgia for what they left behind, a setting in of the realization that they may not return and a trumpet call to gather them back from their musings before they march off the train.  Mehocic takes inspiration from the rhythmic ideas of Stravinsky (which is obvious from its opening bars and several musical references) and then melds them into her own style and narrative here which makes this like a score for a short film.

    Prisma is actually a rather fitting title here for the different works that are included in this compilation of modern music.  Each presents a different aesthetic facet that allows us to reflect on deeper meanings, or simply enjoy the moment.  Each work receives excellent and committed performances and as a result the pieces come alive and encourage the listener to consider each on their own merits.