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Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Great New CD for you to Check Out!

Paul MORAVEC (b. 1957)

The Time Gallery (2000) [42:15]
Protean Fantasy (1993) [9:33]
Ariel Fantasy (2002) [4:17]

eighth blackbird
Peter Sheppard-Skærved, violin
Aaron Shorr, piano

Recorded at the Chicago Recording Company (Time Gallery), November 2002, and at Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK December 2004 (Protean Fantasy and Ariel Fantasy).

NAXOS 8.559267 [56:06]

Paul Moravec is a prolific American composer with more than eighty works to his credit. He was the winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in music for his five-movement TempestFantasy for violin and piano. His music is a combination of the earnest and the entertaining, never taking itself too terribly seriously, but at the same time reflecting the thoughts of a thoroughly skilled and technically virtuosic composer.

The Time Gallery is a work for chamber ensemble that takes four aspects of the concept of time into view. Its opening movement, Bells, Devotional Hours, recalls the eight portions of the monastic day. Opening with random percussion sounds meant to represent a water alarm clock, it moves into the ringing of the bells that called the monks to prayer at the appropriate times of the day in the medieval age. The music is at times contemplative, at others quite energetic, and at all times inventive, tuneful, rhythmically vital and attractive.

The second movement, Time Machine, is much more lyrical and seeks to portray the advent and development of time-keeping devices through music. Opening with a montage of ticking clocks, there are some splendid melodies here and the lovely duet between the violin and clarinet is quite captivating indeed. Of significant interest too is Moravec’s extremely skillful use of percussion instruments, not only as rhythmic devices, but as creative means to melody and color as well.

The third movement, Pulse, is the shortest of the four, depicting the ultimate time machine, the human heart. The contrasts between a steady even pulse and an arrhythmic nervous heartbeat are striking and at times even a bit unsettling.

The final movement, Overtime: Memory Sings, is a poetic and atmospheric reflection on what the composer calls the paradox of time, that is, that time is the creator and destroyer of all things. It is by far the most beautiful of all four sections of this captivating score. Atmospheric to the core, it is at times rich in tonal harmony, and at others dreamy and non-committal in its rhythmic and harmonic structure.
eighth blackbird (intentionally lower case) is one of the finest chamber groups that I have ever encountered. Their dedication and passion for this music is wholly evident in this performance. A group with virtuoso skills to burn, they make the intricacies of this music seem like child’s play. They show no effort at all as they make their way through some very difficult passage work with complete panache. In moments lyrical, they play with passion, yea even some real romanticism. Poetic is perhaps the way I could best describe their interpretations. Completely at one, this is a group that seems on this my first hearing to be the perfect blend of skill and commitment, with an obvious ideal mix of temperament and personality to add luster to an already shining collaboration.

The disc is rounded out with two brief but equally fine works for violin and piano, very skillfully played by Peter Sheppard-Skærved and Aaron Shorr. The writing style here is reminiscent of Prokofiev to these ears, with somewhat disjunct melodies for the violin accompanied by percussive piano writing. Both instrument parts indulge in some extremities of range and dynamics making for interesting listening.

I have not heard new chamber music this fine since my first encounter with Peter Schickele’s wonderful quartet for clarinet, violin, piano and cello, now about 20 years old. Original and masterfully constructed, this music did what all good music should: enticed me to seek out more of this composer’s work.

Recommended without a moment’s hesitation. A real find!

Kevin Sutton

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