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Richard Wernick: Horn Quintet, The Name Of The Game, Etc / Colnot, Et Al

Release Date: 07/14/2009 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9303   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Richard WernickAnton Reicha
Performer:  William PurvisDavid Starobin
Conductor:  Cliff Colnot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Juilliard String QuartetColorado String QuartetInternational Contemporary Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WERNICK Horn Quintet. 1 Da’ase. 2 Trochaic Trot. 2 String Quartet No. 6. 3 The Name of the Game 2 ,4 Cliff Colnot, cond; 4 William Purvis (hn); 1 Juilliard Str Qrt; 1 Read more David Starobin (gtr); 2 Colorado Qrt; 3 Intl Contemporary Ens 4 BRIDGE 9303 (52:34)

Richard Wernick (b. 1934) writes a strong and uncompromising music you don’t hear much nowadays. It is rigorously atonal and “constructed,” and while not always literally serial, it has a similarly constructivist mindset. While ironclad in its logic, it’s not just cerebral. I find the music expressive and forceful. Wernick bears some resemblance to the late Ralph Shapey, who was a bit of a mentor to him in his early career. Both composers work on the axis that I call “Schoenberg-Varèse,” a spectrum of atonal music whose individual works differ according to the amount of repetition that they tolerate. Though neither falls at one extreme or the other of this scale, I’d say Shapey was more of the latter, Wernick is more of the former.

In fact, Wernick’s Horn Quintet (2002) strikes me as extremely Schoenbergian in its sound, especially the first movement, which is light on its feet, with dancing rhythms that remind me of that ancestor’s Serenade. The second movement is a moving peroration by the horn over a repeating-developing string chorale (which feels chaconne-like), and the last movement has an intriguing form of slow material that becomes increasingly fast and intense, repeatedly. The two short guitar pieces, Da’ase and Trochaic Trot (1996 and 2000, respectively), are both gems: concise, elegant, and witty. The Sixth String Quartet (1999) is a more knotty piece, and it took me a few listenings to start to follow its form and logic, but it now moves me. The only work to leave me a little flat is The Name of the Game (2001), a concerto for guitar and 11 players. Its two-movement fast/slower form is clear; its writing for the instrument is idiomatic, but not pandering to guitar clichés; and the orchestration is bright, clear, and ringing, where every note counts. Having said all that, it still doesn’t move or delight me as much as the other pieces. Obviously, there are real virtues here. Perhaps my reaction is just my loss.

It seems I have to make this sort of disclosure more often than not, but I studied with the composer almost exactly three decades ago, for a semester. I remember him as forthright, funny, and eminently practical. These qualities are evident in this music. Wernick, no matter how intellectual, is never a composer to sacrifice real musical substance on the altar of airy theory. This music embraces a certain sort of classic modernism, and it doesn’t try to move it far ahead into some new realm, but it does honor it with a highly personal take, one that makes us hear it fresh. No mean feat.

Suffice it to say, performances are everywhere outstanding here. The composer obviously appeals to performers who want to sink their teeth into something serious and rewarding. And the cover art is one of the best composer portraits I’ve seen recently—as an action painter of scores. You’ll have to buy it to see what I mean.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Horn and Strings by Richard Wernick
Performer:  William Purvis (French Horn)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Juilliard String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003 
Da'ase by Richard Wernick
Performer:  David Starobin (Guitar)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colorado String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 
Length: 3 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 6 by Richard Wernick
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colorado String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998 
The Name of the Game by Richard Wernick
Performer:  David Starobin (Guitar)
Conductor:  Cliff Colnot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  International Contemporary Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001 
Trochaic Trot by Richard Wernick
Performer:  David Starobin (Guitar)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 49 Secs. 

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