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Currier: Clockwork, Entanglement, Aftersong / Berick, Melton

Currier / Berick / Melton
Release Date: 06/12/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1351  
Composer:  Sebastian Currier
Performer:  Yehonatan BerickLaura Melton
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

CURRIER Clockwork. Entanglement. Aftersong Yehonatan Berick (vn); Laura Melton (pn) ALBANY 1351 (57:33)

Ah, this is my kind of music: freaky but in a good way, tonal but not saccharine or kitschy. The music of Sebastian Currier, quite simply, inhabits its own world: lyrical in melody but modern in harmony, the difference being that Currier selects his notes very carefully and judiciously. There are, simply, no wasted gestures or superfluous passages in his music, and it haunts the mind long after it’s Read more finished.

Certainly, that is my reaction to Clockwork, not only the title of this disc but also of the first piece on it. Eighteen minutes long, it alternates busy, complex yet mechanical-sounding passages with others of a dark, almost haunting beauty. In the notes, the composer also brings up its “mechanical movements suggestive of the gears of a clock, and careful attention to the timing between the semi-discrete sections that make up the work as a whole.” This plus the fact that, at least in this performance, I hear a certain tension created between the flitting, mercurial moods of the violin with its edgy and sometimes nervous vibrato and the piano writing, which is not only more mechanical but also cool and dispassionate. I get the impression that the violin is trying to escape the “clockwork” web thrown up around it by the piano. (On a personal level, I also get the impression that by his repeating certain notes over and over in addition to certain rhythms, Currier is making a sly reference to Minimalism.)

Entanglement is the composer’s vision of two composers with entirely different styles writing “in some abstract form, the identical sonata.” One is quite formal, almost rigid, but with a sense of humor; the other is disillusioned and cynical but sometimes insightful and penetrating. You get the idea: two threads of musical thought, striking out on their own solution to similar thematic material, constantly bumping heads from bar to bar and sometimes even within bars. The seven sections of the work are titled Allegro con brio, “Erratic,” “Withdrawn,” Adagio con espressione, Tempo di Menuetto, “Mocking,” and “Vehement/Tema con Variazoni,” but Currier also divides them into the “two sonatas” this way:

Sonata 1: Allegro con brio, Adagio con espressione, Tempo di Menuetto, and Tema con Variazioni (half of the last movement).

Sonata 2: “Erratic,” “Withdrawn,” “Mocking,” and “Vehement” (half of the last movement).

Neither a technical nor a general description of this music can aptly convey how it sounds; one must simply hear it to understand it. The ideas trip across each other so rapidly that although the ear can catch them, one simply doesn’t have the space to record them all. One of the funniest moments comes towards the end of “Mocking,” where the violin and piano keep playing the same little ending over and over again. Naturally, in the final movement there is less alternating of ideas and more of a simultaneity of them, as “Vehement” and Tema con Variazioni are played together! Again, there’s a wonderfully funny passage where the “disillusioned, cynical” composer and the more formal one strike upon the exact same figure at the exact same time. The confluence, or agreement, of ideas is just so unexpected that it’s hysterical to listen to.

Aftersong is a two-movement piece contrasting a “relentlessly active and intense” first movement against a “distant and calm” second movement, yet there are indeed calm moments in the first movement as well. (A bit of “clockwork” also introduces itself in this fast movement via the motor rhythms of the piano.) And again, in the first movement, Currier seems to revel in a very playful repetition of a phrase that sounds like the end of a movement, right in the middle of it. Unlike Clockwork, the piano part is neither as regularly metric nor as cool in feeling, thus when the violin explodes in an emotional snit, the piano joins him. The second movement, which follows without a break at the nine-minute mark, is described by Currier as “distant and calm,” but I would also characterize it as somewhat melancholy. In places, the harmonies Currier uses put me in mind of Eastern or Sephardic music. I hear a relationship in mood to such pieces as Bloch’s Schelomo. The music rises ever upward in the violin range to the stratosphere before disappearing into the ether.

None of this music would be half as effective if the performances were not as good as they are. Violinist Yehonatan Berick really gets under the skin of this music in a way that is exceptional, almost as if he himself had written it, while pianist Laura Melton makes a superb accompanist. (Evidently, her wide experience in playing chamber music has a lot to do with this.) This one is highly recommended.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Clockwork by Sebastian Currier
Performer:  Yehonatan Berick (Violin), Laura Melton (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
Entanglement by Sebastian Currier
Performer:  Yehonatan Berick (Violin), Laura Melton (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
Aftersong by Sebastian Currier
Performer:  Yehonatan Berick (Violin), Laura Melton (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 

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