Giorgio Koukl | 16 NOV 2022
Navona Records has just released Amplify, a new album of six composers — Lauren McCall, Mélanie Hélène Bonis, Keyla Orozco, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, and Jasmine Barnes — in partnership with All Classical Portland, an independent and community-funded radio station in Portland Oregon.
The idea of juxtaposing different composers to better view today’s fervid evolution in the music scene is an excellent way to combat the eternal voices that insist that classical music is dead. Listen, and you will agree that this is not the case.
The opener is a nine-minute-long single-movement piano trio from Lauren McCall.
If there were only three words to describe the composition with the well-chosen title A Spark and A Glimmer, it would be sparkling, witty, and surprising.
The classical piano trio is a musical genre much used in the past, so there are far too many comparisons, but this score, played by violinist Caitlin Edwards, cellist Nancy Ives, and pianist Monica Ohuchi, has some fresh moments of pure joy where the listener can literally participate in the great smile which it automatically produces. Based on a simple rhythmical cell, which interacts between the different instruments, it never has a dull moment and remains engaging also in its slower parts.
Mélanie Hélène Bonis, known as Mel Bonis (1858 – 1937), was a prolific French late-Romantic composer. The next seven tracks are dedicated to Femmes de lègende, a solo piano work by this practically unknown personality. Each movement describes a female celebrity of the past: Mélisande, Desdèmona, Ophèlie, Viviane, Phoebè, Salomè, and Omphale.
If you placed this music in a blind test, nine of ten people would guess Claude Debussy as the composer. It is an incredible fact of how much music today is fully unknown. The pianist Maria Garcia plays this subtle and elegant music with just the right touch and a great sense of balance.
Tracks 9 to 17, Souvenirs, are written for string quartet by Keyla Orozco, a composer of Cuban origins, who is today quite well known, especially for her very interesting orchestra music.
The nine cities represented are Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Caracas, New York, Washington DC, Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and a very special city called My Inner City.
This music is incredibly fresh and certainly the highlight of the CD. The array of compositional techniques applied here is incredibly varied. Just juxtaposing the psychedelic effects of Amsterdam (probably with good reason) versus the chaotic honks, police sirens, and strange rumors of Caracas gives us the idea of how much Ms. Orozco is in command of bowing techniques of a string quartet. That said, it is also the merit of the quartet musicians able to transform this into a sonic reality.
The next three tracks are dedicated to a flute sonata in three movements by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004), certainly one of the most interesting figures among the US composers. This sonata, written only one year before his death, is among his most played works and is simply brilliant. Exceptionally well-written for both flute and piano, it is challenging for the musicians, rewarding for the audience, and perfectly entertaining in its variety of harmonic and rhythmic solutions.
Flutist Adam Eccleston and pianist Monica Ohuchi are the matadors here, delivering a real firework of perfectly played cascades of parallel notes. The only minor issue is the not perfectly tuned piano, which is somehow disturbing in an otherwise well-crafted and recorded master.
The final piece, by Jasmine Barnes, is Taking Names. This nearly five-minute showpiece for soprano and piano uses the lyrics of Shana Oshiro and is an excellent way to end this highly spectacular CD.
In its texture, the music somehow recalls Benjamin Britten and possesses extremely operatic qualities. Karen Slack is the real hero of this score, giving it the most needed charge of energy, vitality, and dramaturgy. She is well accompanied on the piano by Yoko Greeney.
If it is necessary to demonstrate the immense vitality of the US compositional scene, this disc is a perfect way to glimpse at least some aspects of it. ■
- All Classical Portland: allclassical.org
- Lauren McCall: laurencmccall.com
- Mel Bonis: mel-bonis.com
- Keyla Orozco: keylaorozco.com
- Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: africandiasporamusicproject.org/coleridge-taylor_perkinson
- Jasmine Barnes: jasminebarnescomposer.com