HOLOCHWOST Five Piano Etudes.1 Five Piano Preludes.1 Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello.2,3,4 Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano5 • 1Weiyin Chen (pn); 2Andrew Koehler (vn); 3Sarah Hedlund (va); 4Read more class="ARIAL12">Carrie Pierce (vc); 5Argot Trio • ALBANY 1397 (44:12)
Steven Holochwost studied composition at Yale University and earned his doctorate at Rutgers University under the tutelage of Charles Wuorinen. Besides piano, he has studied saxophone. At Yale, he was a bit out of step with many of his fellow composers because of his insistence on tonality, so he eventually decided it would be helpful to study serialism with one of its leading practitioners. For that reason he began to work with Wuorinen at Rutgers. It has resulted in Holochwost’s increasing trend towards the use of serial ideas, particularly where form, proportion, and structure are concerned. However, since he combines a natural conservative bent with an interest in folk and non-Western music, that aspect of his composing leads him to write clear melodic lines with more regular rhythms than one would expect to find in a serial work. Composers have to earn a living, however, and Holochwost, who also has a doctorate in psychology, is currently the senior researcher with the consulting firm of Wolf Brown, where he evaluates arts education programs for low-income children. Like part-time composers of the past, such as chemist Alexander Borodin and insurance executive Charles Ives, Holochwost is, of course, also busy writing music. This disc, which he calls Sounding Surfaces, is his first recording and it features compositions he wrote between 2002 and 2010. The works played on it feature modal sonorities and lyrical melodies which are supported by a structural architecture that he developed while working with Wuorinen. The Five Preludes of his op. 1 were written between 2002 and 2005 while the composer was at Rutgers. With these pieces he established his ability to combine Wuorinen’s “nesting” approach to structure with his own love of subtle melodic textures. The third piece is a slow waltz based on a theme by 18th-century Boston choral composer William Billings, but Holochwost couches it in a 21st-century musical language that makes it sound contemporary. The following two preludes are slow with somber melodies.
Between 2006 and 2009, when Holochwost was writing the Five Etudes, he decided to be somewhat more adventurous and the result is a far more colorful musical palette. His homage to Bartók in the last etude is particularly interesting because it morphs into a more melodic development and then returns to the rather foreboding tones of the first theme. Pianist Weiyin Chen phrases gracefully and captures all the nuances of both the etudes and the preludes. During the time he was composing the preludes, he also worked on his Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello. Since he wrote it for the Jade Trio, which is made up of musicians of Chinese origin or ancestry, the piece is based on a traditional Chinese folk melody. Its treatment, however, involves many variations that include triplets and harmonically interesting double-stops and at times he clothes the theme in Western garb. Played here by a trio of excellent musicians: violinist Andrew Koehler, violist Sarah Hedlund, and cellist Carrie Pierce, this work touches the heart with its haunting melody. The Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano was first composed for flute, saxophone, and harp and it shares some of its musical material with the first etude. Having played a wind instrument himself, Holochwost writes very well for the clarinet, and Argot Trio clarinetist Jonathan Holden really shines in this piece. The trio also includes violinist Caroline Holden and pianist Lois Leventhal who bring precision and clarity to this interesting work. As one might expect with a composer overseeing the recording, the sound is state of the art.