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Quest: New Music For Violin & Cello / Duo XXI, Cromwell, Frisch

Dangerfield / Parks / Maki / Cromwell / Frisch
Release Date: 12/14/2010 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1233  
Composer:  Joseph DangerfieldJohn M. AllemeierDavid MakiRonald Keith Parks,   ... 
Performer:  Anna CromwellMira Frisch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Xxi
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



QUEST: New Music for Violin and Cello Duo XXI ALBANY TROY 1233 (62:21)


DANGERFIELD Nomina sunt omina. ALLEMEIER Rocket. Folklore. MAKI Blue Refracted. PARKS A Matter of Perspective. ANDERSON Quest

Read more /> World premiere recordings of six new works by five unfamiliar (to me, at least) composers: Ah, the joy of discovery afforded by being a Fanfare reviewer! I am happy to report at the outset that this batch of new works has made this particular voyage of discovery a pleasant one, for the music is invariably arresting and interesting. There is rather little written for the string duo of violin and cello, at least compared with the mediums of the string quartet, quintet, or trio. Likely, this is because of the comparatively sparse textures permitted by only two players. Or so one would think. On this CD, the combination of the talents of the composers and performers often would lead one to imagine that there are easily three or four people involved in making this music. Judging by their photos, all of the composers would seem to be near contemporaries, born somewhere in the vicinity of the 1970s. For some reason, their biographies omit in most cases their year of birth, and I’ve been unable to extricate this information from the Internet.


The recital opens with the Nomina sunt omina by Joseph Dangerfield. Born in 1977, Dangerfield studied composition at Marshall University, continued with a masters at Bowling Green State University (Ohio), working with Marilyn Shrude and Mikel Kuehn, and did his doctoral work at Iowa State University, under the mentorship of David Gompper. He has received a number of awards, including the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra’s Composition Prize. Nomina sunt omina (Names Are Omens) takes its title from the naming ceremony of the Catholic Church, in which a well-chosen name for a child is considered to have import for its future. The composition is divided into seven brief sections, corresponding to the parts of the naming ceremony. The sustained tones of the opening evoke the soulful spirit of Ernest Bloch, but the composer shortly brings in agitated passagework punctuated by percussive pizzicati, and an angular melody in the violin accompanied by ricocheted arpeggiation in the cello. Rodney Dangerfield might get no respect, but Joseph immediately commands it in this imposing work.


John Allemeier is also a product of the University of Iowa, having received his Ph.D. there. He teaches theory and composition at the University of North Carolina (Charlotte). Rocket was written in an attempt to overcome the textural limitations of two stringed instruments through creation of full, rich sonorities. This the composer has splendidly achieved through copious use of open strings, double-stops and arpeggios that sometimes span two full octaves. These latter are used to good effect as accompanimental devices. The title suggests the rocket-like increase in intensity that occurs during the course of the work, which concludes with a brilliant climax using the extremes of the range of the violin. Allemeier’s second work, Folklore, uses performance styles suggestive of folk instruments; much of the cello accompaniment in this work suggests finger-picking on the guitar, as it supports a long, soaring melody on the violin. A middle section features long contrapuntal lines that form a conversation between the two instruments, and the work concludes with a reiteration of the opening material.


David Maki also includes the University of Iowa in his pedigree, although he finished up his studies obtaining his doctorate from the University of Michigan. In addition to his compositional activities and his teaching at Northern Illinois University, he also has formed a piano duo with pianist Ashley Mack, creating the unique name of the Maki-Mack Duo. Somehow, with that name, I picture them featuring works such as Weill’s Mack the Knife in recitals given on Mackinac Island—but I digress. Blue Refracted takes its title from the fact that instead of the usual interplay in traditional counterpoint, the motivic ideas, rhythms, and various intervallic relationships are “refracted,” that is, altered, as they pass back and forth between cello and violin. The “Blue” comes in because of the brooding characteristic of some of the motives. The work opens with a plaintive solo in the cello, which receives a “refracted” response from the violin, accompanied by skillful counterpoint in the cello. The tempo picks up considerably in the middle section, which makes use of Bartók pizzicati. This section generates a considerable amount of excitement, and the piece winds down with material similar to its opening.


A Matter of Perspective by Ronald Keith Parks is the only multimovement work on this CD. Each of the movements, according to the composer, “is an exploration, in sound, of the possibilities inherent in realizing models of visual perspective through music.” This work is one of the more rhythmically syncopated of those on the CD and the tonal centers are less well-defined, although the work is hardly atonal. The first movement, “Vanishing Points,” is intended to represent the distant point in a drawing where parallel lines seem to converge. “Aerial Perspective” makes much use of the upper registers of the instruments, especially the violin, and the music seems to float at considerable height. “Two-Point Perspective” finds the violin locked into a 10-beat ostinato against which the cello explores other dimensions before becoming synchronized with the violin. “Forced Perspective” creates a sonic illusion through the juxtaposition of disparate rhythmic subdivisions. Altogether, the piece works beautifully, achieving much of its effect through the composer’s use of perfect intervals. Parks teaches at Winthrop University, having received his Ph.D. from the University of Buffalo.


The final work, Quest, lends its name to the CD. Composed by Stephen R. Anderson, the work establishes a method of creating a four-part texture by just two instruments. Yes, Anderson really would have us believe that we’re hearing a string quartet here. And, yes, he succeeds in his goal quite admirably, doing so in part through his imaginative use of open strings as pedal points. This, to my ears, is the most innovative work on the CD, and is really quite striking in its originality. Repeated notes and figures are set off against interjections and trills (often encompassing intervals greater than seconds). It is also the longest work on the disc, and has distinct sections, each with a contrasting character. This music will not quickly be forgotten by the listener, as it generates palpable excitement. Anderson’s D.M.A. comes from the University of North Texas, and he is on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The playing of Duo XXI, violinist Anna Cromwell and cellist Mira Frisch, is a bit of a mixed bag. On the positive side is their generally good intonation (one minor exception coming in one of the high violin solos in Blue Refracted ), and precise ensemble playing; they interact very well with each other. The duo also gets into the spirit of each of these pieces well. Less impressive, though, is the vibrato used by the violinist, which I find sometimes a little too wide. This contributes to a tone that is generally less than ideal, often sounding rough around the edges. More sensitive phrasing by both performers would also be possible to imagine. These are good players, but not great artists. Despite this, the duo is certainly capable of presenting these works well. The recorded sound is rich and sonorous, also to the advantage of the music. Each of the composers represented on this CD is good enough to warrant having an entire CD devoted to his music. I would welcome the chance to hear and review more music by any of them. In the meantime, I can recommend this CD as a good demonstration of the talent present in the younger generation of American composers.


FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

1.
Nomina sunt Omina by Joseph Dangerfield
Performer:  Anna Cromwell (Violin), Mira Frisch (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Xxi
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
2.
Rocket by John M. Allemeier
Performer:  Mira Frisch (Cello), Anna Cromwell (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Xxi
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
3.
Blue Refracted by David Maki
Performer:  Mira Frisch (Cello), Anna Cromwell (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Xxi
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
4.
Folklore by John M. Allemeier
Performer:  Mira Frisch (Cello), Anna Cromwell (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Xxi
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
5.
A Matter of Perspective by Ronald Keith Parks
Performer:  Mira Frisch (Cello), Anna Cromwell (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Xxi
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
6.
Quest by Stephen R. Anderson
Performer:  Mira Frisch (Cello), Anna Cromwell (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Duo Xxi
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 

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