SOUNDS OF AMERICA
though is now resident in Philadelphia, and is an alumnus of Bates College, Lewiston, ME, Peabody Conservatory and Temple University, Philadelphia, among other locations. He composes in a millennial free-tonal idiom, looking to the future but unafraid to reference the past, as shown by the earliest work here, the String Trio (2014). It is cast in three compact movements, fast-slow-fast, with more complex internal structures than that suggests. The model, as he concedes in the booklet note, was Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet, mainly for its range of moods and harmonic language. There are no intended thematic quotes but – unconsciously – one of the main motifs truncates the Russian’s motto to E flatC-B (ie Es-C-H in German notation).
The Piano Sonata (2015) is also in three movements, though it started life as a six-minute Rhapsody to be a recital companion piece for Chopin’s Third Piano Sonata. After Katelyn Bouska had premiered it, she requested Carpenter add two further movements to form a sonata. Its neo-romantic manner can be heard as a commentary on 19th-century music and is not intended as a pastiche.
The song-cycle From the Valley of Baca (2016) contains nine settings, five of poems by Emma Lazarus, separated by four excerpts from the 84th Psalm in Hebrew (a concept suggested by Lazarus’s eponymous poem, which is prefaced by a section of the psalm). Together they form a metaphor of a dispossessed people, whether Lazarus’s Jewish contemporaries persecuted in 19th-century Europe or Syrian refugees in 2015. It is a subtle cycle, nicely sung by its dedicatee, Lawrence Indik, lacking only a big standout number or memorable tune. Fine, sensitive performances all round, caught in rather airless recordings made on four separate occasions in late 2017. Definitely worth investigating. Guy Rickards
Quayle String Quartets – No 1; No 2, ‘Sweet Insanity’; No 3 Avalon Quartet Naxos American Classics M 8 559851 (55’ • DDD)
Now in his early forties, Matthew Quayle has amassed a catalogue of almost
50 works in a range of genres. Chamber music makes up the largest proportion of his output, these three string quartets having emerged during just over a decade of creativity.
Interestingly, the First Quartet (2003/05) started as a stand-alone Andante, inspired by the recent loss of Quayle’s grandmother and whose intense while never inert nostalgia is audibly of the pastoralism to be found in earlier American composers. Its sense of innocence lost (or left in abeyance) is pursued in three movements added two years later: a capricious Presto, a second Andante whose serioso marking indicates its sombre and often agitated expression, then a determined final Allegro that rounds off the work in the regretful light of experience.
The Second Quartet (2006) picks up directly on its predecessor, its compact though eventful single movement alternating between direct lyricism and an edgy incisiveness which between them evoke the Sweet Insanity of its subtitle (whether there is any covert allusion to Brian Wilson’s never-released 1991 album of that name is an intriguing thought). By contrast, the Third Quartet (2016) unfolds as 13 brief vignettes that build into a cohesive whole in spite (or because?) of those abrupt and often dislocated stylistic or emotional contrasts between them.
The Avalon Quartet took part in the premieres of the First and Third Quartets; the conviction they bring cannot be gainsaid. Vividly recorded and thoughtfully annotated (by Quayle himself), this is a welcome introduction to a composer from whom one looks forward to hearing more. Richard Whitehouse
Vollrath ‘Souls in Transitions’ Buddha of the Future. The Secrets of the Magdalenian Caves. Tombs of Ancient Times Summa Trio Navona F NV6212 (57’ • DDD)
brief note, the composer gives no other hint as to when these works were written and there is maddeningly little information about them on the internet.
The trios prove Vollrath is a craftsman as composer, each one an object lesson in how to balance the modern piano with violin and cello. Vollrath’s solution is to thin out the keyboard textures so as not to overpower the strings but not overdo it either. The result is attractive, tonal music filled with light and shade.
The descriptive titles came after the music was written, in the case of The Secrets through a comment by a Troy colleague that the music ‘reminded him of images he had seen of ancient Peruvian cave paintings’. The second trio, Tombs of Ancient Times (in three movements), refers to ancient Egyptian burial traditions and became the second in a series ‘Souls in Transitions’, drawing inspiration from the beliefs of the past. The third, Buddha of the Future, is more Janus-faced, inspired by how Buddha has been portrayed previously and wondering how that will change in the future.
Each trio is separate and independent, with its own specific character, for instance in the ticking pizzicatos that open Tombs or Buddha’s march-like finale. Played in sequence as here, they form a coherent larger whole. The Summa Trio, another name new to me, catch the music’s energy and evocative qualities very nicely in naturally balanced sound. Recommended. Guy Rickards
‘Citizen’ Anonymous Amazing Grace (arr Walden) Chopin Mazurkas – No 2, Op 6 No 2; No 13, Op 17 No 4; No 15, Op 24 No 2 Gasser American Citizen Gross Locations in Time Little Accumulation of Purpose Still Summerland Walden Sacred Spaces Bruce Levingston pf Sono Luminus F DSL92228 (71’ • DDD)
Carl Vollrath (b1931) was a new name to me when this delightful disc of piano trios dropped through my letterbox. A New York-born alumnus of Stetson, Columbia and Florida State Universities (1953-64), he taught at Troy University, Alabama, for 40 years from 1965, where at least the first of these trios, the diptych The Secrets of the Magdalenian Caves, was composed. In his
When Bruce Levingston was invited to give a recital for the opening of the Civil
Rights museum in his home state of Mississippi, he put together a programme of works purporting to reflect issues of patriotism, citizenship and human rights that seem more contentious and polarising than ever.
It’s a strong concept on paper and in theory. Yet do these piano pieces transcend gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE APRIL 2019 III