Fanfare - June/July 2004 - by John Story
"This disc has made me ponder the vagaries of fame and reputation. All the music on the program is as good as any I have heard recently, all by composers and performers I know nothing about; obviously, this is not as it should be. So this is my job to remedy that to the extent that such is possible by a minor critic, albeit in an important journal. The works are performed in the order listed in the headnote. Ralf Yusuf Gawlick (b. 1969) is pondering the eternal in his Concerto concertante per sei instrumente for two pianos and string quartet (exactly why the title is in Italian, given that the composer was born in Germany, educated in the US, and teaches in Boston, eludes me). It is a big work in three movements, taking its overall inspiration from the verse in Isaiah set by Monteverdi in his Duo seraphim (Vespers 1610). Gawlick's music is full of huge gestures, and the masses of sonority totally belie the chamber group producing it. His style is an expanded tonality à la Messiaen, where consonance and dissonance exist more for their coloristic potential than as the tension and release of diatonic tonality. Masterfully written in the traditional three movements, it makes me curious to hear more of the composer's work.
Jonathan McNair (b. 1959) offers a much smaller work for clarinet and piano. Although not programmatic (the title was added after composition), Huckleberry Finn in the Museum of Art is a delightful romp, abounding in special effects from both instruments (at several points the clarinet produces a mad series of clicks that sounds not unlike someone tap dancing in the distance) that capture the whimsy implied by the title.
Steven Ricks (b. 1969) offers by far the most aggressive music heard here in his Leave Song for soprano and chamber ensemble. Written while the composer was studying with Harrison Birtwistle, it has some of the powerful rhetoric that abounds in the older composer's work. Ricks uses his ensemble of three winds, four strings, and percussion for maximum color. The poems by Martin Corless-Smith evoked, for Birtwistle, Arial from Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Ricks's music certainly captures both the magic and menace implied by Propero's island. The vocal line is jagged but moving, and is handled with great confidence by Jennifer Larson.
Performances, recorded in three different venues, are all excellent, as is the sound, which is well matched from piece to piece. This is all immensely rewarding music, well worth repeated hearing."