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David Wolfson: Seventeen Windows, Sonata For Cello & Piano / Bontrager, Lin

Release Date: 03/12/2013 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1407   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  David Wolfson
Performer:  Jenny LinLaura Bontrager
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WOLFSON 17 Windows for Solo Piano. Sonata for Cello and Piano Jenny Lin (pn); Laura Bontrager (vc) ALBANY 1407 (57:09)

Here is interesting, intimate music by a composer who, it seems, is also known as the author of Story Salad, a series of stage revues for children, but on this disc David Wolfson gives us a window (pun intended) on his more serious side. After studies with Eugene O’Brien, John Read more Rinehart, and Marshall Griffith, Wolfson graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1985 and apparently won the Darius Milhaud Award that same year for his short opera Rainwait. In both the CD booklet and on his website, he is credited with collaborating with a number of writers, choreographers, and directors in music theater, opera, and dance and, in fact, from 1989 to 1992 he was both the resident composer and music director of the EM/R Dance Company. Later on, he wrote and co-produced an evening-length musical theater work titled Breath: The Passionate Life and Extraordinary Language of Emily Dickinson.

Some of the 17 Windows work better than others. The composer’s own notes indicate that it took the better part of two years to write the entire set, which he says “can be excerpted, mixed and matched to create shorter sets if desired.” That in itself is a great concept, especially since these pieces range considerably in not only mood but structure. Some are well developed, regardless of their length; some are minimalist; others seemed to me a form of “sampling.” This variegated approach makes the set rather loosely structured; as a whole, it presents a contrast of moods, aptly reflecting its title of different “windows” to the composer’s mind. Some even have a jazzy feel to them.

Apparently, this set began its life as a short prelude which Wolfson showed around to various pianists. Most just said, “Thank you for showing me this,” but pianist Jenny Lin said, “Write 16 more!” Her performance is warm and loving, caressing each piece with a rich, deep-in-the-keys touch. Despite the musically polyglot approach used here, I found her performance mesmerizing, and although some of the pieces are more cohesive than others, there were several that I felt I could play myself. It’s actually a good feeling to hear music that’s accessible to a home pianist who isn’t a concert artist!

Wolfson’s Cello Sonata follows more traditional forms, in this case constantly working around the tension created between B (which, Wolfson points out, acts as the tonic in the first and last movements, as a third in the second, and a fifth in the third) and its neighbor C. Despite the use of classical form (as well as much more complex writing for the piano), some of this music—particularly the first movement—has the kind of rhythm one normally associates with Minimalism. Cellist Laura Bontrager matches pianist Lin in rhythmic acuity as well as mood, producing a rich tone on her instrument, but possibly due to the microphone placement her tone emerges as a bit thick. (I think a little more distance from the microphone would have done the trick.) Overall, then, a fun and interesting disc of modern music that is not off-putting for you tonalists out there, well played and for the most part well recorded.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Seventeen Windows by David Wolfson
Performer:  Jenny Lin (Piano)
Sonata for Cello and Piano by David Wolfson
Performer:  Laura Bontrager (Cello), Jenny Lin (Piano)

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