Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Whether Chris Brubeck is composing, arranging, playing piano, trombone, guitar, bass, singing, working with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, the Triple Play trio, or the London Symphony, he seems to bring an unembarrassed exuberance to everything he touches. His music is undeniably American, and he is a scion of the likes of Ives, Gershwin, Bernstein, Copland, and Ellington—not to mention his father, Dave Brubeck. There are other influences as well, everything from Shostakovich to Oliver Knussen. Brubeck seems to embody the composer of the 21st century—he is neither afraid to refer to the familiar
past nor reluctant to explore the fringe. One doesn’t need a degree in music theory, electro-acoustic engineering, or advanced math to groove with his music.
, the title piece on his new CD, is a three-movement concerto for orchestra commissioned by the Boston Pops. It begins with a whirlwind musical flight that suffers from something endemic to new music: too many ideas. Please do not accuse me of sounding like the Emperor Franz Joseph. I am not saying there are too many notes, just too many brainstorms. The tendency to showcase skills is something that contemporary composers involuntarily do, a form of insecurity that is superfluous. The surfeit of concepts merely diffuses the overall effect. Whether or not each individual motif is brilliant in its own right, the sum of the parts only adds up to a fractious soup with too many ingredients and too many spices. Brubeck might better be served by choosing one idea and developing it, in deference to the fact that audiences require enough time to digest each musical idea of a totally new work before going on to another one. Fortunately, the next movement is a quiet, spare violin blues that becomes a shimmering, fond, nostalgic testimonial to big band music of the 1940s, followed in the last movement by a neat Ivesian syncopation of an off-stage band with the on-stage orchestra. Brubeck demonstrates scoring talent throughout, facilitated by his obvious abundant exposure to all sorts of musical genres.
would certainly be on the easy listening end of the new music spectrum, a fact to which I do not condescend, rather esteem. Though I welcome unfamiliar and bizarre acoustical offerings, I don’t condemn accessible tonal music for attempting to be comprehensible.
River of Song
, the next selection on the CD,
is a song cycle based on prize-winning poems written by children, commissioned by Frederica von Stade. Brubeck does a fine job of coloring each song, capturing the childhood spirit unique to each. His programmatic accents are not overbearing and the melodies are sweet without being simplistic—and Frederica von Stade, whom I will forever associate with a 1982 Humperdinck
Hansel and Gretel
video (Pioneer Artists LD 85-136) that I viewed with my daughter a million times, is the perfect fairy godmother for such an excursion.
River of Song
gives me hope that future generations will continue to enjoy music in concert halls, not just in giant sports arenas or on iPods.
The final piece on the CD is Brubeck’s “Prague”
Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra. Brubeck’s skill both as composer and soloist here is extraordinary. It’s refreshing to think that new music can be easily eclectic, incorporating classical, jazz, electronic, and pop elements without having to make excuses for any of it—it’s a form of American neo-Romanticism that’s worth exploring.
FANFARE: David Wolman
What happy music this is! Besides inheriting first-rate jazz sensibilities from his father, Dave, Chris Brubeck appears to have a similar bubbly delight in melody that emerges from crisp, imaginative rhythmic patterns. True to its name, Convergence is a musical mixing of many elements: A folk dance in Balkan rhythms (shades of Blue Rondo à la Turk!); a Satchmo-like trumpet blues; a marching band that somehow sounds like a New Orleans funeral procession in 7/4. It all works and it's all fun.
Paul Freeman has made many important contributions to American music. His two performances on this disc surely will count as stand-out efforts. One of his specialties is getting Central European orchestras to play American music like they were Americans, and he surpasses himself, energizing and swinging the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Not only here but also in the Prague Concerto (Brubeck's second concerto for trombone) the orchestral contribution is fluent and idiomatic, easily coping with both works' considerable diversity of influence.
Brubeck, the bass trombone soloist in the concerto, is an outstanding player. Besides brash energy in the outer movements, he exhibits sensitivity in the middle movement. There this naturally dominant instrument must gently emerge from softly glowing strings to join a trio (flute, bassoon, and horn) playing from a rear balcony. The textures here are truly inventive and make the listener grateful for the SACD's natural-sounding surround recording.
Setting off these two very strong works is a much more gentle six-part song cycle called River of Song. It contains five poems from the book River of Words, written by talented elementary school pupils, and a concluding wistful E. E. Cummings poem. Sara Jobin conducts the Tassajara Symphony, an ensemble from a small city in California. The playing here is not as self-assured as that of the Prague orchestra, and there also are moments of vocal strain from each of the soloists, but this is no reason to disfavor the recording. To the contrary, I count it as one of the most musically solid and entertaining one-composer collections I've heard for a good while, and recommend it very highly.
--Joseph Stevenson, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
River of Songs by Chris Brubeck
Frederica Von Stade (Mezzo Soprano),
Rachel Luxon (Soprano)
Tassajara Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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