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Melby: Concerto For Computer And Orchestra / Suben, Polish Radio National Symphony

Release Date: 07/14/2009 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1124   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  John Melby
Performer:  Minghuan XuWinston ChoiJohn MelbyMinghurn Xu
Conductor:  Joel Eric SubenJoel Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio National Symphony OrchestraPolish Radio Symphony OrchestraDuo Diorama
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MELBY Concerto for Computer and Orchestra. 1 Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Computer. 2,3 Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Computer 2,4 John Melby (electronics); Winston Choi (pn); 2 Minghuan Xu (vn); 3 Joel Eric Suben, cond; 1 Polish R Natl SO 1 Read more class="BULLET12b">• ALBANY TROY 1124 (61:55)

The writing in the solo instrumental concertos of American composer John Melby is in the tradition of Schoenberg. Atonal and at times jagged, the piano part of the Concerto No. 2 brings to mind the expressionist unease of the Viennese master’s own Piano Concerto, while the combination of piano and violin as equal soloists in the “Double” Concerto gives the Bergian game away. These two works, composed in 2006 and 2008 respectively, may even be strictly serial (something which I always find hard to pinpoint aurally). Formally, the concertos are each in a single movement comprising a basic fast/slow/fast layout, albeit with many shifts of mood within the broader episodes. Melby is particularly adept at creating passages of dreamy introspection. The two soloists in the “Double” Concerto are given an extended unaccompanied cadenza to round out the lyrical middle section.

I begin with these aspects before getting on to the subject of sonority so as to emphasize that Melby writes genuine music of serious intent. These two concertos are part of a series for solo instrument and computer numbering 18 at the time of writing. Of course, the overriding fascination is the fact that the ripieno is provided digitally. As Melby says in his notes, he has not only composed the music but also composed the instruments. I have no idea how the synthesized aspect of these works is realized—whether, for instance, there is a keyboard used—but, whatever the process, the important thing from our point of view is the result. While this music may sound like Berg/Schoenberg abducted and reimagined by aliens, the aliens in question are subtle and intelligent beings. The Piano Concerto’s computer part makes much of a pseudo-harpsichord sonority, which can be morphed into a “boing!” and flattened out into a percussive rattle. Melby often takes the computer up to the stratosphere, where mere human instruments lose focus and strength. Most of the time, the computer provides soft transient coloration, rarely creating a digital version of an orchestral tutti.

One aspect of these works I appreciate is the separation of acoustic and digital sound: there is no bending, echoing, or fiddling in any way with the live sound produced by the piano or violin. This helps keep clarity at a premium and serves the musical argument well—a further indication that Melby’s work is not exclusively about texture.

The odd one out in the program is the Concerto for Computer and Orchestra of 1987, a virtual concerto for orchestra where the machine becomes the soloist. Here, digital textures are brought more to the forefront. The computerized sounds are more traditional: at times chime-like, with the occasional plop and bubble, along with soft-focus wind sonorities. Melby’s orchestration itself is imaginative and assured. The composer was an orchestral trombonist at an earlier stage of his career; indeed, the trombone section features strongly in the opening measures.

Performances are excellent. Particularly impressive is the Canadian pianist Choi, who exhibits complete identification with the music and has a fine range of expression at his fingertips. I would happily hear these two musicians play Berg’s Chamber Concerto: on this showing they would do a great job. A very worthwhile release, not least for its purely musical argument. I hope we will be hearing more of Melby’s computer concertos on CD.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Computer and Orchestra by John Melby
Conductor:  Joel Eric Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; USA 
Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Computer by John Melby
Performer:  Minghuan Xu (Violin), Winston Choi (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2008; USA 
Concerto no 2 for Piano and Computer by John Melby
Performer:  Winston Choi (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2006; USA 
Concerto for Computer by John Melby
Performer:  John Melby (Electronics), John Melby (Computer)
Conductor:  Joel Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 19 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Notes: Producer: Beata Jankowska.
Engineer: Beata Jankowska. 
Concerto for Violin, Piano and Computer by John Melby
Performer:  John Melby (Electronics), Winston Choi (Piano), John Melby (Computer),
Minghurn Xu (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Diorama
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 21 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Notes: Producers: Winston Choi; John Melby.
Engineer: Roy Wallace. 
Concerto for Piano and Computer no 2 by John Melby
Performer:  John Melby (Computer), John Melby (Electronics), Winston Choi (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Diorama
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 21 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Notes: Producers: Winston Choi; John Melby.
Engineer: Chris Aftoora. 

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