A Variety of Contemporary Music To Explore

A new variety of downloadable releases hit streaming services this month from Navona. As usual there is a little bit of something for everyone from large orchestral tone poems, to more intimate chamber music.


Four works by Richard E. Brown are included in Voices of the Night (Navona 6425) which takes its title from the opening "Nocturnal Fantasy". The work is based on a Longfellow poem and is constructed into three interconnected segments. The music here is in a Neo-Romantic mode with a somewhat cinematic quality. The evocative opening music moves into an exciting rhythmic central section with interesting syncopated ideas before evaporating into the final segment. It is a quite engaging work and makes for a great opener. The performance by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is a fine one, somewhat tentative in spots but still makes for a convincing performance. The other three works were recorded with the Janacek Philharmonic. Karel Dohnal is featured in a Clarinet Concerto which Brown wrote in 1973 and more recently revised. The opening movement features some stark dissonance with a 6-note motivic idea that is part of the general underlying idea which is tossed about the orchestra. The central movement is beautiful even in the midst of its more austere harmonic ideas (a sort of Bartokian quality). Angular lines open the final movement with some great big chordal punctuations. The Paisano Suite is another earlier work that Brown has revisited in this 20-minute orchestral suite. The overall thrust is a sort of theme with variations as a unifying component. Brown's language here moves from more open harmonic ideas to those flirting with an expanded traditional tonality. The fast-paced segments provide some fine energy and contrast. The final work, Expansions, is a more atonal work and atmospheric in a quality reminiscent of Penderecki. The clusters and the way that they shift ourward is quite fascinating. Brown's music is quite engaging and those interested in music that has a Neo-Romantic quality with some more atonal overtones will find some great music here. The album moves from the more accessible to the harsher works inviting the listener to get accustomed well to Brown's musical voice with fine dramatic writing.


Brass Tacks (Navona 6428) is a collection of 7 contemporary works mostly for brass quintet. Members of the Janacek Philharmonic Brass are featured in these works. There is also a brief little work for tuba by Janice Macaulay (Tuba Contra Mundum) and a new horn sonata by Andrew Lewinter which is a bit more Romantic in style. The fugue is a prominent explored form here, especially in the opening "Three By Five" from Brian Belet with a cool "5/4 Fugue in G Major" by I. Peter Deutsch adding a twist as well. Deutsch is also represented by a picturesque "Mountain Journey" and a delightful brief "Twilight Waltz". Nathan Wilson Ball's "Nocturne" explores color in its reflective music. In short, some interesting music to explore for fans of brass chamber music.


Stories Out of Cherry Stems (Navona 6424) provides an oppotunity to explore the art songs of composer Peter Dayton. The current collection here features four song cycles that explore poetry of Sappho in texts by Jordi Alonso (Entwine Our Tongues); Pablo Neruda (Si Solamente), English poets (Lost Daughter: Songs of the Myth of Persephone); and poetry of Max Ehrmann (Desiderata: 10 Pieces of Wisdom). Dayton's style has a fine lyrical sensibility that is sensitive to the textual demands. Each cycle is scored for different chamber groupings which also adds to the general ambience of the music. The first work (Entwine) uses an interesting combination of oboe/English Horn and clarinet(s)/bass clarinet which punctuate the vocal lines. The music moves from denser harmonic ideas to open up a bit into moments of beauty in modern musical language. The cello addition in the Neruda settings is quite effective. In the Persephone songs, Daytonuses flute, viola, and harp which create a somewhat ancient/modern quality to the backdrops of his texts. The last cycle is scored for alto saxophone and voice which is an intriguing combination. Dayton writes music that sometimes merges the quality of the instrument with vocal technique in often fascinating ways. Katie Procell is the featured soprano soloist here and she has a quite beautiful pure tone to take on these works. The collection is certainly worth checking out for those interested in new vocal writing. Dayton's music is approrpriately dramatic and connects well to these texts.

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