Music and Vision homepage



Patric Standford listens to two new CDs from the USA

CD Review

There are mixed blessings to the ease with which composers are now able to manufacture their own CDs, sometimes at a relatively low cost if they are working with friendly performers and studio equipment that is part of an accommodating academic institution or an enthusiastic neighbour. The only additional requirement is a flicker of creative talent, a commodity that is far more rare than a flair for invention - as those of us who are at this time of year assessing BA and MA composition portfolios know only too painfully!

But then, neither creativity nor inventiveness is common among aspiring composers, a species that cannot quite get away with as much mischief as the members of local watercolour societies or writers' groups. Composers need the co-operation of performers who will (usually) in the course of their exertions act as a sort of filter for the very worst offences, sometimes making near incompetence sound quite effective. And so listeners tolerate more than they should, even from some illustrious names from the past, because they have no means of knowing better. But live and let live, as they said of old Mr Cadwallader who brought a pig with him on the holiday outing.

The trouble now is that composers can manage without the winnowing performer, producing formidable scores by way of MIDI keyboards, synthesizers, sound modules and samplers. This is what Emilian B. Sichkin has done with his Romeo and Juliet, a vast eleven-movement 'symphonic tragedy' spread over two CDs, a total playing time of 1 hour 48 minutes of artificial orchestral sound with the occasional relief of the real Gregg Smith Singers, the Russian Chamber Choir, and some fragments of solo singing and kit drumming recorded both in New York and Russia. As a piece of digital technology it is very impressive. The recording is clear, the resources are used with skill, and the vocal elements are well balanced. But the music is of no outstanding interest, sounding like an unedited and hugely self indulgent film score, clearly the sort of thing that Sichkin would do successfully for a director or editor who would cut it down to size forceably. Shakespeare takes a back seat too.

The brief notes include some dreadful poetry, and tell us that Sichkin is Russian born, New York resident, with an actor father (he played Brezhnev in Oliver Stone's 'Nixon') and a mother who danced with the Bolshoi. His music is 'a synthesis of many styles from romantic symphonies to Rakhmaninov and progressive rock', which is no great synthesis for it sounds like an insipid pastiche of the lot. The whole was realised in his own studio and, he writes, 'the complexity required enormous effort and streched over six and a half years of continuous work'. Good grief!

Hidden Reflections - Lior Navok chamber worksAll this is a pity, because it overshadows another American CD that is really rather interesting. Lior Navok is a composer working in Boston, and his CD, called Hidden Reflections, presents three contrasting, well made, colourful and imaginative works written over the last 5 years. In the earliest piece, a Quartet for flute, clarinet, bassoon and harp (1994), I was much reminded of those French composers who manage, sadly, to escape our attention - d'Indy, Roparz, Koechlin, and especially Roussel, though Navok claims Ravel and Messiaen influences. There is also jazz haunting the disc's title piece, two movements for alto saxophone and piano, and a fascinating string quartet, Voices of India (1997) which pursues its roots
with intricate sensitivity through Alap, Gat and Jhala movements. Navok is a composer of serious purpose who needs now to become a bolder explorer of the space beyond his apparent and acknowledged influences. In the meantime, this is a pleasant find among self promoting imported CDs, the (live) performers adequate to the responsibility of introducing this young composer.

Copyright © Patric Standford, May 24th 1999

Emilian Sichkin
Romeo & Juliet (2CDs)
Pizdets Records (

Lior Navok
Hidden Reflections (Chamber Works)

More CD Reviews >>