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Three Cabinets Of Wonder: Music Of Michael Colina

Colina / Andriaccio / Khitruk / Lso / Levin
Release Date: 03/29/2011 
Label:  Fleur De Son   Catalog #: 57999   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Michael Colina
Performer:  Anastasia KhitrukMichael Andriaccio
Conductor:  Ira Levin
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

COLINA 3 Cabinets of Wonder 1. Goyescana 2. Los Caprichos 1 Anastasia Khitruk (vn); 2 Michael Andriaccio (gtr); Ira Levin, cond; London SO FLEUR DE SON FDS 57999 (71:41)

Well, drat and double drat! As a new reviewer for Fanfare, I had Read more already made up my mind about which contemporary CDs would be on my first Want List, and then our editor has to go and send me a CD that not only is a must for this year’s list, but even rises to the “desert island” level. This CD will, in every parameter under consideration, receive an unqualified rave from me. I was, in fact, left emotionally overwhelmed after I concluded my first audition of this disc. You really don’t need to read any further in this review: Operators are standing by—purchase this CD now!

At first blush, the opening movement (“Fanny’s Brother”) of Michael Colina’s violin concerto, Three Cabinets of Wonder, might seem too stylistically disconnected from the two movements that follow, but take my word: It isn’t. Intended to portray a tribute from Felix to his sister, Fanny, it evokes both by key and texture the opening of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Colina has used some of Fanny’s sketches in this movement, wherein long lyrical lines soar over a busy orchestral accompaniment. Along the way, the listener will hear pulsating figurations akin to Prokofiev, some rather Bartókian flourishes, and a soupçon of the neoclassical spirit of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. Colina skillfully melds these elements to form a personal style, which, despite its tonality, doesn’t quite resemble that of anyone else. The second movement, “Buddha’s Assassin,” evokes an entirely different world. Its static orchestral underpinnings are commented on, as it were, by short lines from the solo violin. A reiterated stroke of the tam-tam infuses the movement with an oriental flavor. The rhythmic activity of this movement eventually picks up, and one encounters some tabla-like rhythms.

The third movement is titled “Guardian of the Glowing,” which will mean little without explanation: It is intended to portray an encounter with a mystical being in the Amazonian rain forest. This encounter, based on an actual event in the composer’s life, produces thousands of fireflies, and a fleeing from this being. I’m not sure what to make of all of this symbolism, but the music produces a stunning effect: powerful rhythms are juxtaposed with intense lyricism supported by the most beautiful sequences of chords imaginable. The concerto ends with one of the most thrilling conclusions I’ve ever heard in a piece of music. It’s that good!

This work has instantly become one of my very favorite contemporary violin concertos. Indeed, as a composer, I must state that if I ever write a violin concerto, I would be delighted if it turned out to have a fraction of the emotional impact and connection that this work has. I cannot believe that this work will not assume its place in the standard repertoire for the violin. The solo playing of Anastasia Khitruk must be singled out for special praise. This young violinist is as good as they come. She plays with the utmost musicality, technical security, and style and sensitivity that could be imagined.

Of all instruments, the guitar is one of the most difficult for which to write a concerted work, because it is so easily covered up by most of the instruments of the standard symphony orchestra. Colina skillfully avoids this pitfall, and has written a work that is transparent in its textures, to the benefit of the solo instrument. In this work, Goyescana, Colina’s Cuban parentage comes clearly to the forefront, whereas in the violin concerto, and even in Los Caprichos, there is little discernable Latin influence. Goyescana resulted from a commission by Robert Phillips, and the composer considers the emotional heart of the piece to be its second movement, titled “Serenata.” Here, a gentle melody is spun out in the solo instrument, being then taken over by the violins. Listening to this music, I can imagine myself sitting on the beach in Havana sipping a mint julep. There is one “big tune” in C Minor in this movement that is particularly gorgeous. The spirit of this work conjures up memories of Joaquín Rodrigo—guitarists who don’t want to play the Concierto de Aranjuez yet again ought to explore Colina’s finely wrought concerto. The performance here by guitarist Michael Andriaccio sounds definitive. The plentiful technical and musical hurdles in this work seem not to challenge him in the least. Additionally, I cannot imagine anyone extracting more colors from his instrument than Andriaccio does here.

Los Caprichos, an orchestral work cast in 12 short movements largely played without pause, was born from the composer’s horror at the events that transpired at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The work is a theme and variations based on a downward (half step-minor third) three-note motive that suggests physical and ideological repression and torture. It conjures up many moods, from tortured anguish to mysterious sounds to quiet resignation. Movement 11, the only one not based on a print by Goya, is a harp cadenza. Conductor Ira Levin does a masterly job in the pacing of the work, and every detail of the orchestration is clearly audible in this superb recording.

I do not use the word masterpiece lightly, but in my opinion, these three works all qualify as such, and I am confident they will be performed a hundred years from now. I will come back to this CD repeatedly to savor its endless delights. If you buy just one contemporary CD this year, this is a strong contender for the honor.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Three Cabinets of Wonder, concerto for violin & orchestra by Michael Colina
Performer:  Anastasia Khitruk (Violin)
Conductor:  Ira Levin
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2007-2009 
Venue:  Abbey Road Studios, London, England 
Length: 30 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Goyescana, concerto for guitar & orchestra by Michael Colina
Performer:  Michael Andriaccio (Guitar)
Conductor:  Ira Levin
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  Abbey Road Studios, London, England 
Length: 21 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Los Caprichos, for orchestra by Michael Colina
Conductor:  Ira Levin
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  Abbey Road Studios, London, England 
Length: 18 Minutes 28 Secs. 

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