This album was nominated for the 2006 Grammy Award for "Best Classical Contemporary Composition."
R E V I E W S:
Ned Rorem never ceases to amaze. Now well into his ninth decade, he has, over the past quarter-century, been writing a large quantity and quality of instrumental and orchestral music in every conceivable genre—some of them self-invented—in which his inborn lyrical fluency (he’s never at a melodic loss) of his earliest years has been deepened and transfigured by an inexhaustible access of dramatic intensity. This new Phoenix release of three substantial chamber works (two in premiere recordings) bears this out with undeniable masterfulness.Read more Is any American today writing better music? Not by a large margin.
The Nine Episodes for Four Players (somewhat recalling his brilliant Louisville commission of a few decades ago, Eleven Pieces for Eleven Players) was composed over a short period of years around the millennium. With its sometimes quirky subtitles, a few carrying implicit autobiographical overtones (“One Answer to Four Questions,” “Waltz, Prayer, and Crash,” “Waiting to Get Well”), this 25-minute sequence for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano belies its episodic designation by embodying a deeply embedded emotional arc that testifies to Rorem’s repeated reclamation and reinvigoration of the suite form. With each of the four musicians treated as an equal and essential protagonist, Rorem does not deal in an arbitrary concatenation of isolated, self-contained “numbers.” This is a carefully integrated statement offering an idiosyncratic and all-encompassing perspective on his world that only Rorem could have made.
The same holds true for the shorter, somewhat divertimento-like Dances for cello and piano of 1983, in which “Valse rappelée” and “The Mirror Toccata” are surrounded by “dances” of a more thoughtfully poetic character. The third and final work here is one of the milestones in the Rorem later canon—the 1990 Spring Music, written for and recorded by the Beaux Arts Trio on a no-doubt long-deleted disc. This lovely paean to the season of fertility and renewal is in five distinctive movements: Aubade; Toccata; Fantasia; Bagatelle; and Presto. The music covers a wide swath of thematic and psychological ground because Rorem has always had an instinctive grasp of the necessary principles of variety and contrast—and economy, too. The middle 10-minute Fantasia contains some of his most eloquent and communicative pages of recent years, and it is beautifully played with an absolute degree of insight and sensitivity by the all-woman Contrasts Quartet.
With its perceptive annotation by Russell Platt and excellent production values provided by Jeffrey Kaufman and Joseph Patych, this disc not only deserves its Emmy nomination but your immediate and guaranteed gratified patronage. The 2006 Want List begins.