Notes and Editorial Reviews
Elegie for Astronauts
The Tale of Issoumbochi
David Amos, cond;
Donald Barra, cond;
Jonathan McMurtry (nar);
James Campbell (cl);
Richelle Triglia (sop);
California Ballet O;
Nicholas Grant (vn);
David Ward-Steinman (pn, cel);
David Ward-Steinman, cond
FLEUR DE SON 57996 (63:46)
This latest CD devoted to the art of David Ward-Steinman begins with
Elegy for Astronauts,
a work inspired by the Challenger disaster of 1986, and an event that inspired several composers to write works commemorating these heroes of space exploration. Ward-Steinman’s contribution to these memorials begins with a rather violent and turbulent beginning, rather evocative of the explosion of the ill-fated Challenger about a minute into its flight. An electronic episode takes over from the orchestra shortly into the piece, creating an eerie ambience. After this initial outburst, the piece takes a decidedly more tranquil and tonal turn, and ends quietly with an affirming and peaceful D-Major sonority.
is scored for solo piano and chamber ensemble consisting of flute, clarinet, bassoon, alto saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. It is a boisterous, highly rhythmic work, full of vitality and life. The title is a French word that refers to the interference patterns that one sees in overlapping grids of parallel lines. This phenomenon is sometimes encountered on silk or other fabrics. Ward-Steinman has applied the principle to music by utilizing overlapping irregular accompanimental patterns, over which the piano plays its lines. The “musical interference patterns” that result are a fascinating aural experience. This is Minimalist music for those, such as this reviewer, who don’t like Minimalism. I
very much this piece!
I suspect the free improvisation that is included in this CD was done as a novelty, as few recitals include such things. The improvisational skills of clarinetist James Campbell and Ward-Steinman on the piano are such that the resulting work was well worth preserving on the present disc. Indeed, were it to be transcribed (a most tedious process, I can assure you, having attempted it for one of my own recorded improvisations) and published, I have no doubt that other performers would take it up. The piece is, not surprisingly, free of any but the barest hints of tonality, but there is plenty of variety in texture, mood, dynamics, phrasing, and special effects such as multiphonics on the clarinet and inside-the-piano effects from Ward-Steinman, and bears up well under repeated hearings. Obviously, Campbell deserves credit as co-composer of the work.
The Tale of Issoumbochi,
(the approximate Japanese equivalent of “Tom Thumb”), is scored for narrator, soprano, and chamber ensemble of five players. The charming story of Issoumbochi’s adventures is skillfully narrated by Jonathan McMurtry, and is given voice by soprano Richelle Triglia. Triglia’s voice, though warm and pleasant, seems a bit too rich for the size of the fellow she is portraying, but that’s a very minor quibble. Ward-Steinman’s use of his accompanying forces is imaginative and colorful, skillfully exploiting the limited tonal resources available to him. The tonality in the work is rather free, and complements the narration very well. Play this work for any child you know, young or old, and see if you do not get a positive reaction!
is a ballet commissioned by the San Diego Ballet for the opening of the San Diego Civic Theater. Originally written in 1965, the work was expanded and re-choreographed in 1987, and it is this latter version from which the concert suite presented here has been extracted. Its movements include “Prelude,” “Limbo-Apollo,” “Earth-Wedding Celebration,” “Duo: Orpheus and Eurydice,” “Pas de deux,” “Hades-Bacchanal,” and “Apotheosis and Coda.” That’s about all I can tell you about the plot, given that there is no synopsis provided, but it would seem safe to assume that the story is some variant of the ancient Greek legend.
The style of the music is richly and dramatically chromatic, and features a prominent solo violin part (beautifully executed by Nicholas Grant), the lines of which wander about in improvisatory fashion. While freely tonal, the chordal structure of this ballet is complex, diffuse and hard to pin down in specific key areas. Certain of the chords and rhythms owe something (as does much contemporary music) to
The Rite of Spring.
Ward-Steinman makes skillful use of harp and piano interjections (some of which are played inside the piano), to propel the momentum forward in unexpected directions, but there are also tender sections of quietude that provide contrast and equipoise.
The performances and recorded sound on this Fleur de Son release are exemplary, and must have provided the composer great satisfaction. Ward-Steinman is a versatile composer who has written deeply moving music in a variety of styles and genres; his is music well worth exploring by any music lover who is attracted to the music of our era, and is most heartily recommended.
FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
Works on This Recording
Moiré by David Ward Steinman
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