Notes and Editorial Reviews
for Cello and Orchestra
for Violin and Chamber Orchestra
for Flute and Chamber Orchestra
Nicole Paiement, cond;
James Smith, cond;
Curtis Macomber (vn);
Christina Jennings (fl);
University of Wisconsin C O
ALBANY 1390 (74:05)
Yet another fine American composing talent, that I have only just encountered. Despite a long, award-strewn career and commissions from some pretty hefty names, Laura Elise Schwendinger is only now starting to get discs devoted entirely to her music. With a forthcoming album of her chamber works,
High Wire Act
and Nonet, on the way, this current album is a neat program of three concertos for different instruments, and it makes a fine first encounter to her purposeful but accessible style. Written between 2007 and 2009, these pieces share a very virtuosic, albeit pleasingly lyrical and expressive solo part, set to an often very harmonically complex orchestral score, although each work is very different in feel.
A rather Brittenesque set of chords opens
, a big, brooding four-movement cello concerto, and the brilliant way it is developed creates a taut underpinning to the restless, anguished cello line, which acts at times as disjointed commentator to the dark, icy string writing, or elsewhere echoes precisely what is going around it. The third, almost jazzy, movement sees Schwendinger strip everything down, before bringing back the full power of the orchestra again for an urgent finale that leaves us hanging over the abyss. It is great to encounter Matt Haimovitz again (known for his solo recitals on Deutsche Grammophon) and he delivers an intense performance that feels spontaneous and unclinical. Superbly responsive conducting too from Nicole Paiement.
Although it is a shame that
dedicatee, Jennifer Koh, doesn’t feature here, Curtis Macomber grants us a thrilling performance of this fiendishly difficult sounding violin concerto. There is an element of Ravel’s
about the work; both open with busy unaccompanied violin writing, before the harp creeps in and unleashes a very exciting, jagged accompaniment, although Schwendinger’s big, brutal orchestral writing takes this conventionally structured three-movement concerto in a very different direction from Ravel’s showpiece. Brutal stomps from the orchestra contrast with some very rhapsodic woodwind writing (especially in the second movement), giving a mercurial underpinning to the very sly, almost gypsyish solo part. All of this is built convincingly into quite a terrifying finale and, just as in
, the ending is a jolt out of nowhere. It really works.
, a single movement tone poem, is predictably a more unified and slightly gentler affair. Opening from a hushed, magical ether, Schwendinger (herself an accomplished flutist) writes gloriously for the flute, relishing not just the instrument’s soft grained, ‘flowery’ tone but exploring its more astringent sounds as well. It is very sensual writing, set against a vast array of shimmering orchestral colors, by turns, glittering and somber, and unlike the jarring endings of the first two concertos,
ebbs quietly away into the ether, marking a full circle to its mysterious opening. Exquisitely played by Christina Jennings (the work’s dedicatee), this is the highlight of the disc.
What I find compelling about Schwendinger’s writing is its unashamed lyricism, amidst the dissonance. Despite her evident love of lush textures and swelling chords to support the often restless solo writing, there is a forward momentum, a journey or line, that any good composition has to have in my view. Despite her professorship there is nothing stiflingly academic about any of the concertos here. Only
was recorded live, but the performances of all three works feel tight, impassioned and, well, lived in, although I have no score to verify technical accuracy. Sound is clear and forward, with the soloists given quite an intense, closely recorded ambiance, which fits the vivid textures of the pieces well. Although reviewing from a download the PDF booklet points towards a typically thorough Albany release. This is ballsy, confident music-making in both writing and execution and proves that serious contemporary music does not have to dumb down to be immediately accessible and emotional. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
Works on This Recording
Esprimere by Laura Elise Schwendinger
Matt Haimovitz (Cello)
Chiaroscuro Azzurro by Laura Elise Schwendinger
Curtis Macomber (Violin)
Waking Dream by Laura Elise Schwendinger
Christina Jennings (Flute)
Universiy Of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
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