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Laura Schwendinger: Three Works / Haimovitz, Macomber, Jennings

Schwendinger / Haimovitz
Release Date: 12/11/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1390   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Laura Elise Schwendinger
Performer:  Matt HaimovitzCurtis MacomberChristina Jennings
Conductor:  Nicole PaiementJames Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Madison SinfoniettaUniversiy Of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHWENDINGER Esprimere for Cello and Orchestra 1,2. Chiaroscuro Azzurro for Violin and Chamber Orchestra 1,3. Walking Dream for Flute and Chamber Orchestra 4 1 Nicole Paiement, cond; 4 James Smith, cond; 2 Matt Haimovitz Read more (vc); 3 Curtis Macomber (vn); 4 Christina Jennings (fl); 1 Madison Snf; 4 University of Wisconsin C O ALBANY 1390 (74:05)

Yet another fine American composing talent, that I have only just encountered. Despite a long, award-strewn career and commissions from some pretty hefty names, Laura Elise Schwendinger is only now starting to get discs devoted entirely to her music. With a forthcoming album of her chamber works, High Wire Act and Nonet, on the way, this current album is a neat program of three concertos for different instruments, and it makes a fine first encounter to her purposeful but accessible style. Written between 2007 and 2009, these pieces share a very virtuosic, albeit pleasingly lyrical and expressive solo part, set to an often very harmonically complex orchestral score, although each work is very different in feel.

A rather Brittenesque set of chords opens Esprimere , a big, brooding four-movement cello concerto, and the brilliant way it is developed creates a taut underpinning to the restless, anguished cello line, which acts at times as disjointed commentator to the dark, icy string writing, or elsewhere echoes precisely what is going around it. The third, almost jazzy, movement sees Schwendinger strip everything down, before bringing back the full power of the orchestra again for an urgent finale that leaves us hanging over the abyss. It is great to encounter Matt Haimovitz again (known for his solo recitals on Deutsche Grammophon) and he delivers an intense performance that feels spontaneous and unclinical. Superbly responsive conducting too from Nicole Paiement.

Although it is a shame that Chiaroscuro Azzuro’s dedicatee, Jennifer Koh, doesn’t feature here, Curtis Macomber grants us a thrilling performance of this fiendishly difficult sounding violin concerto. There is an element of Ravel’s Tzigane about the work; both open with busy unaccompanied violin writing, before the harp creeps in and unleashes a very exciting, jagged accompaniment, although Schwendinger’s big, brutal orchestral writing takes this conventionally structured three-movement concerto in a very different direction from Ravel’s showpiece. Brutal stomps from the orchestra contrast with some very rhapsodic woodwind writing (especially in the second movement), giving a mercurial underpinning to the very sly, almost gypsyish solo part. All of this is built convincingly into quite a terrifying finale and, just as in Esprimere , the ending is a jolt out of nowhere. It really works.

Waking dream , a single movement tone poem, is predictably a more unified and slightly gentler affair. Opening from a hushed, magical ether, Schwendinger (herself an accomplished flutist) writes gloriously for the flute, relishing not just the instrument’s soft grained, ‘flowery’ tone but exploring its more astringent sounds as well. It is very sensual writing, set against a vast array of shimmering orchestral colors, by turns, glittering and somber, and unlike the jarring endings of the first two concertos, Waking Dream ebbs quietly away into the ether, marking a full circle to its mysterious opening. Exquisitely played by Christina Jennings (the work’s dedicatee), this is the highlight of the disc.

What I find compelling about Schwendinger’s writing is its unashamed lyricism, amidst the dissonance. Despite her evident love of lush textures and swelling chords to support the often restless solo writing, there is a forward momentum, a journey or line, that any good composition has to have in my view. Despite her professorship there is nothing stiflingly academic about any of the concertos here. Only Waking Dream was recorded live, but the performances of all three works feel tight, impassioned and, well, lived in, although I have no score to verify technical accuracy. Sound is clear and forward, with the soloists given quite an intense, closely recorded ambiance, which fits the vivid textures of the pieces well. Although reviewing from a download the PDF booklet points towards a typically thorough Albany release. This is ballsy, confident music-making in both writing and execution and proves that serious contemporary music does not have to dumb down to be immediately accessible and emotional. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

Esprimere by Laura Elise Schwendinger
Performer:  Matt Haimovitz (Cello)
Conductor:  Nicole Paiement
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Madison Sinfonietta
Chiaroscuro Azzurro by Laura Elise Schwendinger
Performer:  Curtis Macomber (Violin)
Conductor:  Nicole Paiement
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Madison Sinfonietta
Waking Dream by Laura Elise Schwendinger
Performer:  Christina Jennings (Flute)
Conductor:  James Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Universiy Of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

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