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Intriguing selection

KEITH BRAMICH listens to
contemporary music on the Vienna Modern Masters label

Vienna Modern Masters    VMM 3050
Vienna Modern Masters    VMM 3052

Music from Six Continents - 2000 Series © 2000 Vienna Modern Masters

Two discs from the Vienna Modern Masters label's 'Music from Six Continents' series provide an intriguing selection of contemporary music from Australia, Israel, the UK and the USA, dealing with some difficult subjects. The 2000 series disc (VMM 3050) begins with music by American composer Aaron Rabushka (born 1958), who is to be the subject of a feature by Jennifer Paull to be published tomorrow at Music & Vision.

Rabushka's Concerto Vocale: Salmo 126 (1993) begins very promisingly -- an atmospheric and reflective piece in which soprano Barbara Pietrzak sings from the Targum Onkelos, an Aramaic translation of the Bible. The singing, playing and recording are all top notch, but an inexplicable central section [listen -- 2000 series, track 1, 7:59-9:06] spoils the atmosphere, in my opinion, when the composer changes to a different, unrelated and less serious-sounding style. (Read Jennifer Paull's article for a different view on this.)

Rabushka plays the same trick to an even greater extent, wrecking the atmosphere created during the first five minutes of the first movement of his Trombone Concerto, featured on the 2001 series disc (VMM 3052) with Jiri Vydra as soloist. The second movement's slow waltz has a rather surprising ending [listen -- 2001 series, track 3, 3:15-4:20], and the third movement is rather eccentric.

Music from Six Continents - 2001 Series © 2001 Vienna Modern Masters

Easier to take seriously is Unattainable Peace: Symphonic Poem No 1 (1997) by another American composer, David Fetherolf (born 1956). Inspired by Timothy Ryback's Report from Dachau in The New Yorker, recalling memories of a man living above the square where Nazi transport trains arrived. The third movement is successful in portraying the return of freedom (but without joy) to Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Fetherolf is also represented on the 2001 series disc with El Dia de los Muertos (2000), inspired by the Mexican festival The Day of the Dead, a choral and orchestral piece in which he builds complex structures from choir and percussion.

Israeli composer Tsippi Fleischer (born 1946) is represented by her very short Symphony No 2: The Train (2000), a successful reflection of the journey through life. It's here that we first become aware of imperfections in the playing of the Moravian Philharmonic -- trumpeters falling off fast notes, and some untidy corners in the strings.

American composer Margaret Shelton Meier (born 1936) contributes a Mass for the Third Millennium (1993) which ends the 2000 series disc. A simple and attractive setting in which the unaccompanied Ars Brunensis Chorus (formed in 1979 as the Brno Music Youth Choir), directed by Roman Valek, are mostly excellent, but suffer from the occasional lapse of control.

The 2001 series CD begins with the powerful and emotional Lament for Kosovo -- Adagio for Strings [listen -- 2001 series track 1, 0:00-1:05] by Australian composer Betty Beath (born 1932). The music has something of the sound worlds of Benjamin Britten (particularly the Frank Bridge Variations) and Welsh composer Grace Williams. An optimistic coda, in the words of the composer, 'reflects a conviction that the new millennium offers opportunities to restore those conditions which enrich our lives'.

The CD ends with Cheap Trills [listen -- 2001 series track 12, 0:00-0:41] by American composer David Patterson (born 1941), an homage to comedian Victor Borge. The movements have pun-riddled titles such as 'A Cheaper Imitation (Rachnotmanenough meets Beethoven)' and 'Cheap Cheap (Claire de Lunetics)'. The music, mostly juxtaposed quotes from the classics, achieves its aim, to an extent, with vintage Borge tricks. It doesn't scale the heights of what we might hear in a Hoffnung or P D Q Bach concert, but it is quite funny.

Copyright © 6 July 2002 Keith Bramich, London, UK


Music from Six Continents - 2000 Series

VMM 3050 DDD Stereo 73'09" 2000 Vienna Modern Masters

Barbara Pietrzak, soprano, Ars Brunensis Chorus (director Roman Valek), Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Mikula, conductor, Toshiyuki Shimada, conductor

Aaron Rabushka: Concerto Vocale: Salmo 126 (1993); David Fetherolf: Unattainable Peace: Symphonic Poem No 1 (1997); Tsippi Fleischer: Symphony No 2: The Train (2000); Sonja Grossner: Destiny (1998); Theldon Myers: Toccata - Fantasy (2000); Margaret Shelton Meier: Mass for the Third Millennium (1993)

Music from Six Continents - 2001 Series

VMM 3052 DDD Stereo 67'45" 2001 Vienna Modern Masters

Jiri Vydra, trombone, Akademic Choir Zerotin (director Pavel Konarek), Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Toshiyuki Shimada, conductor

Betty Beath: Lament for Kosovo: Adagio for strings; Aaron Rabushka: Trombone Concerto; David Fetherolf: El Dia de los Muertos; David Patterson: Cheap Trills


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Saturday series of shorter CD reviews