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David Carlson: True Divided Light

Carlson / Walther / Miland / Korevaar
Release Date: 02/08/2011 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1283   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  David Carlson
Performer:  Geraldine WaltherDavid KorevaarEmil Miland
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 44 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CARLSON True Divided Light. Cello Sonata Geraldine Walther (va); Emil Miland (vc); David Korevaar (pn) MSR MS1283 (43:56)

What a neat, enjoyable program this is. So often, for understandable budgetary reasons, most contemporary albums resemble a frantic mishmash of all the works the composer could cram into one disc, regardless of genre (a short two-choir oratorio here, a six-movement sonata for musical saw there), so that this elegantly written, likewise played, set of two Read more sonatas comes as a refreshing change. And all from a composer I had not come across before. The Connecticut-based David Carlson, a protégé of Leonard Stein, was initially influenced by the 1960s avant-garde scene, yet his recent work would seem to be quite tonal, judging by the works here. Although he is clearly at home in the concert hall or opera house, this album is one of refined intimacy.

A viola sonata in all but name, True Divided Light is resolutely melodic and accessible, not that it is old-fashioned in any way. I am always drawn to the combination of viola and piano, an underrated instrumental playoff of darkness and light, ideal for those moments where the agonized soulfulness of the cello would be too much. It has an elegant opening, with the skittish twists of the viola sitting perfectly against the cool, placid piano writing. It is almost a Minimalist piece, simple but very fresh, bracing, and modern. Carlson was inspired by the idea of refracted light, the different moods and colors bouncing off each other; the title is an architectural term for a window made from several panes of glass. All very revealing, but I prefer Carlson’s initial summary of the piece as “absolute music,” and the title more aptly reflects the timbre of the instrumentation.

The cello sonata, an earlier work from 1991, is not quite in this league, a poised, elusive work though it is. The gloomy start and unsettled harmonies create a more complex work. For all I have written about the cello’s natural expressiveness, Carlson keeps his emotions close to his chest here; the first movement is quite jittery and mysterious, reaching an agonizing climax before coming to exhausted, plaintive rest. Even before I read the notes, the tonal resolution of this piece gave this work a deathly peace, after the drama of what went on before. And, by all accounts, my feelings were pretty accurate; Carlson wrote this during the time of the AIDS epidemic and the earlier war in Afghanistan.

In both works the piano is the calming voice, with Carlson’s pattern of gentle chords and runs framing the wiry, more dramatic string writing effectively. Not that this makes David Korevaar shy away from his formidable string partners, Geraldine Walther (viola of the Takács Quartet) and Emil Miland. In short, the playing is utterly brilliant and the sound and presentation is all one could wish for, and I do hope MSR tries its utmost to market this. In the midst of a lot of good but forgettable contemporary music, True Divided Light is a hidden gem, and I do wish there were some more secure way of breaking new work on the international chamber scene. It certainly deserves it.

FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

True Divided Light, for viola & piano by David Carlson
Performer:  Geraldine Walther (Viola), David Korevaar (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2005 
Venue:  Music Recital Hall, UC Santa Cruz, CA 
Length: 23 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Sonata for cello & piano by David Carlson
Performer:  Emil Miland (Cello), David Korevaar (Piano)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1991 
Venue:  Music Recital Hall, UC Santa Cruz, CA 
Length: 20 Minutes 29 Secs. 

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