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Amrhein: Chamber Music / Sherry, Currie

Release Date: 06/28/2005 
Label:  Mmc Recordings   Catalog #: 2136   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Karen AmrheinRichard Stoltzman
Performer:  James SherrySoyoung RyooRichard StoltzmanNicholas Currie,   ... 
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony OrchestraSlovak Radio Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Karen Amrhein provided the liner notes to this most satisfying release. Alas, she gives no biographical information. A visit to her Web site, however, tells me that she was born in 1970 and studied music at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Her notes, however, are aphoristic, concise, and often beguilingly metaphorical. As in her highly focused music, she says a lot in a small space. This offering bears the title ?Still Life,? inspired by her friend, violinist and painter Nicholas Currie, three of whose paintings adorn the booklet, and who performs in two of the pieces. Amrhein refers to the whole undertaking as ?an album of aural Read more and visual images,? which provides yet another insight into her music. A painting or a piece of sculpture can be beheld instantaneously. Music flows through the element of time. In the six multimovement chamber music compositions found here, the longest movement weighs in at 3:02 (the Romance in the Euphonium Sonata), making this collection of musical miniatures prime examples of Gestaltmusik (my term), or, to put it differently, expertly composed musical snapshots.

Amrhein is tonally oriented, lyrical, and composes with an insightful sense of instrumental possibility. She is also a fine contrapuntalist who is equally adept at thinking both vertically and horizontally. Her lines are enlivened by quirky rhythms, and the harmonies that their convergences generate at key points are never less than pleasingly surprising.

The five sonatas for solo instruments and piano were composed in 1995 and 1996 and embody all of the above virtues using the most instrumentally intimate of means. Despite their obvious aural differences, they are all cut from the same harmonic and rhythmic cloth. But who can complain when the cloth is so attractive? The Hamilton Street Concerto for guitar and orchestra was composed in 1998 and, at 13 minutes, is the second longest piece found here. Its six movements provide Amrhein with the opportunity to explore a greater range of affective realms than is encountered in the two and three movement sonatas for solo instruments and piano. The piece is deftly executed, and provides a fine run up to the two most ambitious works on this offering.

The Missa humanis for chorus and chamber orchestra was inspired by a 1999 hearing of a performance of Beethoven?s Missa solemnis. The inspiration was, apparently, a negative one, urging Amrhein to compose the antithesis to Beethoven?s Mahlerian masterpiece. Her setting of the Ordinary of the Mass takes a mere 10 and a half minutes. With the exception of the Kyrie , repetitions of the text are avoided. The choral writing projects a feeling of monody despite its occasional forays into counterpoint. The result is an almost primordial take on a timeless text, and it reminds this listener of Stravinsky?s (another master of concision) Mass setting of 1948.

Event Horizon for clarinet and chamber orchestra, completed in 2002, is the finest piece on this release. It is an expansion of a single movement five-part concert overture originally composed in 1999 for Jason Love and the New Horizons Chamber Ensemble. At the request of William Thomas McKinley in 2002 for a piece to be written for Richard Stoltzman, Amrhein fleshed out the original five-part scoring to chamber orchestra proportions, added a solo clarinet part, and composed two introductory movements. An event horizon is the cosmological term for the perimeter of a black hole. Amrhein?s musical narrative takes us from the comfortingly known realm of our universe to that terrible place. We are sucked into the vortex where one of two things can happen?utter annihilation, or we can be punched into a parallel universe. In Amrhein?s piece, the latter happens, and we are treated to a jaunty passacaglia. She is writing for a world-class clarinetist, and puts him through his paces?exploiting the extreme registers of his instrument. As to be expected, Stoltzman acquits himself admirably, as does the Slovak RSO under Kirk Trevor.

All of the other performances are similarly simpatico. The recording is fine, and adds up to one of the most fascinating releases to come my way in a long while.

In short, Want List material.

FANFARE: William Zagorski
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Trumpet and Piano by Karen Amrhein
Performer:  James Sherry (Trumpet), Soyoung Ryoo (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 4 Minutes 32 Secs. 
Event Horizon by Karen Amrhein
Performer:  Richard Stoltzman (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Length: 15 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1999 - 2002). 
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Richard Stoltzman
Performer:  Nicholas Currie (Violin), Lisa Rehwoldt (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Sonata for Euphonium and Piano by Karen Amrhein
Performer:  Karl Schulz (Euphonium), Alex Rovang (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; USA 
Length: 6 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Concerto for Guitar "Hamilton Street" by Karen Amrhein
Performer:  Oscar López Plaza (Guitar)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998; USA 
Length: 12 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Karen Amrhein
Performer:  Kyle Coughlin (Clarinet), Lisa Rehwoldt (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Sonata for Horn and Piano by Karen Amrhein
Performer:  Benito Diaz (French Horn)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 1 by Karen Amrhein
Performer:  Catherine Frey (Viola), Todd Thiel (Cello), Asako Kuboki (Violin),
Nicholas Currie (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Missa humanis by Karen Amrhein
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Slovak Radio Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Length: 10 Minutes 30 Secs. 

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