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Elliott Schwartz: Darwin's Dream

Schwartz / Shuhan / Icwe / Peterson
Release Date: 06/14/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1266   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Elliott Schwartz
Performer:  Elizabeth ShuhanAlex Shuhan
Conductor:  Stephen Peterson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Borromeo String QuartetIthaca College Wind EnsembleElectronic Media
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHWARTZ String Quartet No. 2. Summer’s Journey. Darwin’s Dream Borromeo Qrt; Ithaca College W Ens ALBANY 1266 (67:57)

Elliot Schwartz is an institution among American academic composers, with dozens of important works and many successful former students in the ranks. A number of his works have been reviewed in these pages, most notably a perceptive piece by Colin Clarke of the chamber concertos ( Fanfare 33: 4), the genre Read more for which Schwartz may be best known. This disc is a bit of grab bag, though Schwartz’s notes suggest that each was written as a response to a personal experience. Except for an abrupt acoustical shift for the middle works for wind ensemble, the transitions in medium work nicely.

The Borromeo String Quartet opens with a sensitive and finely drawn reading of the composer’s Second String Quartet from 2007. The impetus for the creation of this work is fascinating, and includes the incorporation of a 12-tone row used by Aaron Copland (!) at the end of his life in an unfinished work. A viewing of sculptures by artist Louise Nevelson provided additional inspiration, and further musical material is borrowed from a Polish-Russian lullaby that also found its way into a Copland work. Varied texture seems to be a predominant preoccupation here, and an ineffable sense of tenderness and isolation seem to flow from the most memorable sections. It is a finely crafted and ultimately moving piece, played with great sensitivity by this fine foursome.

Next up is Summer’s Journey for wind ensemble with flute soloist Elizabeth Shuhan in the first movement (“Sunrise with Seascape”) and horn player Alex Shuhan in the second (“Twilight Arrival”). Each movement brims with colorful evocations of the subject (day and night music), and once again the composer reaches beyond his own work for inspiration. Quotations from Mozart and Mahler can be heard, though the effect is rather discreet and flows seamlessly from Schwartz’s own inventions. The soloists are fine throughout, especially in some of the songlike material that emerges from time to time. Stephen Peterson leads the Ithaca College Wind Ensemble in a spirited and winning performance.

Darwin’s Dream is a fun and quirky collage work that begins with a bouncy tune from a ’70s vintage ARP synthesizer, soon joined by quotes from Schumann’s Kinderscenen from a piano. Many other jarring juxtapositions follow, and the composer treats his material more as entertaining aural doodles than hard-core intellectual exercises.

If you know and admire this composer’s music (as I do), this is must-have disc. If he hasn’t yet crossed your radar, you owe it to yourself to hear his delightful collection of works.

FANFARE: Michael Cameron
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 2: For Louise and Aaron by Elliott Schwartz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Borromeo String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Summer's Journey by Elliott Schwartz
Performer:  Elizabeth Shuhan (Flute), Alex Shuhan (French Horn)
Conductor:  Stephen Peterson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ithaca College Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Darwin's Dream by Elliott Schwartz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Electronic Media
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 

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