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Ethan Wickman: Portals And Passages

Wickman / Phillips,Nicholas
Release Date: 02/08/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1246   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ethan Wickman
Performer:  Nicholas Phillips
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WICKMAN Invention for St. Vincent in the Mezquita. Passages for Piano. Forbidden Parallels. In Winter: Reverberations on a Theme. Inside the Hubble Toolbox Nicholas Phillips (pn) ALBANY TROY1246 (57:06)

Last year, I was deeply impressed (as was my Fanfare colleague Phillip Scott) by a recording of a magnificent string quartet ( Read more style="font-style:italic">Namasté ) by Ethan Wickman (b.1973) on a previous multi-composer Albany release, and I was thus excited to hear this new CD devoted entirely to Wickman’s music. Wickman holds degrees from Brigham Young University, Boston University, and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music; he is currently on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire. His music is very beautiful—filled with luminous harmonic colors and memorable ideas. His style draws equally on American neoromanticism and what I have often termed “American colorism” (typified by composers such as Joseph Schwantner and Stephen Albert).

This recording contains all of Wickman’s solo piano works to date, performed excellently by Nicholas Phillips, Wickman’s faculty colleague at Wisconsin. The pieces range in scope from the six-minute Forbidden Parallels (2005) to the extended 16-minute In Winter: Reverberations on a Theme (2010), a discursive set of variations on a Stephen Fosteresque theme composed by Wickman’s great-grandfather. The “period” sound of the theme is a contrast with the rest of Wickman’s more contemporary tonal language. He terms the work “reverberations” rather than variations likely because of its loose structure (almost like viewing the theme at a distance through a haze). It is perhaps a bit too long for its material, but it is mostly sweet and tender throughout.

All of the other works make a positive and immediate impression. They are concise, focused, and filled with strongly etched musical ideas. Invention for St. Vincent in the Mezquita (2003) is a festive interaction between original material and the C-Major prelude from Book 2 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Passages for Piano (2008, rev. 2010) is delicately lyrical and expressive, with the spirit of an intermezzo. The energetic Forbidden Parallels draws its title from its use of traditionally “forbidden” musical material: parallel octaves, fifths, and tritones. Inside the Hubble Toolbox (2009) is a set of character pieces inspired by the final repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The movements bear whimsical titles such as “all work and NO play will fix the Multi-Object Spectrometer.” It is the most dramatic music on the disc and reminds me of the work of Paul Moravec.

This is a thoroughly appealing collection of piano music from an extremely talented composer whom I will continue to follow with tremendous interest. Very enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Carson Cooman
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Works on This Recording

Invention for St. Vincent in the Mezquita by Ethan Wickman
Performer:  Nicholas Phillips (Piano)
Passages by Ethan Wickman
Performer:  Nicholas Phillips (Piano)
Forbidden Parallels by Ethan Wickman
Performer:  Nicholas Phillips (Piano)
In Winter: Reverberations on a Theme by Ethan Wickman
Performer:  Nicholas Phillips (Piano)
Inside the Hubble Toolbox by Ethan Wickman
Performer:  Nicholas Phillips (Piano)

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