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Rain Waves

PETER DICKINSON reviews concertos by Bond, Ott and Tower

This is an unusual release - described as the first of a series - in that two of the three composers are little known outside the USA. The British record catalogue has only one piece each by Tower and Ott. This is particularly unrepresentative for Tower, who is substantially represented in the US catalogue and deserves to be. Her Rain Waves for clarinet, violin and piano (1997 - not recorded) made a vivid impression when it was played by the Verdehr Trio, who commissioned it, at the Institute of United States Studies, London University, last autumn.

In coming to new concertos one looks for something outside the inherited routines of rhetoric, passage-work and cadenzas and instead a newly-imagined approach to the whole scenario of piano and orchestra. Only Tower, now in her 60s and with several concertos to her credit, manages this here. Her starting point relates to Beethoven. It is not always clear how since the CD booklet, which cannot even provide dates of birth for these composers, is not forthcoming. (And we didn't need an 8-page separate booklet promoting other releases.) But Tower starts beautifully with repeated soft C sharps in piano and orchestra expanding to E-C-A, patterns which recur. Her approach to the concerto is concentrated by using an episodic one-movement layout with musical textures ranging from rapt stillness to frenzied activity. Dramatic Beethoven gestures recur but finally focus on the soft purity of D major at 17'53", which is much more than a gesture. It prepares for the end with a long solo which gets oddly distorted into thick textures and then there's the merest dismissal in a quick tutti.

Victoria Bond calls her three-movement work Black Light as a tribute to the influence of African American music on her own work. This is perceptible at the opening and in the moving bass of the finale but the connection is not consistently employed and the slow movement is based on Jewish liturgical sources. It is hard to find 'the romantic spirit of the late nineteenth century alive and well' (CD booklet) in Ott's concerto. These are the usual tired routines barely refreshed.

American readers can compare the performance of the Tower with that by Ursula Oppens and the Louisville Orchestra/Silverstein on D'Note Classics DND 1016, but this one feels efficient and is the best reason for buying this CD, which is vividly recorded.

Copyright © Peter Dickinson, November 14th 1999


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