I don’t generally pick which CDs to review by first reading the sleeve notes. Thank Goodness. Otherwise I should have thrown this album straight in the bin! I have to say that the programme notes written by George Sturm from Music Associates of America are utterly incomprehensible to this listener and I daresay would be to most others. They’re full of pretentious claptrap such as ‘Remembrances alludes to traditions of memorialising’ and ‘My goal was an existential kind of authenticity: searching… for universal ideals .. true to both myself and the performers while acknowledging the traditional uses of the instruments.’ These are mainly the words of the composer and one can see why she specialises in music rather than writing – she’s clearly better at it. But I’m afraid the rest of the text is not much more user friendly.
So I have to say the presentation does little to encourage the casual listener/buyer to explore the music further. Which is a great shame because it turns out to be rather good. Again, despite the notes, which assert that Zwilich has an easily recognisable American sound, I have to say the ‘Concerto for Violin & Orchestra (1988)’ was not immediately recognisable as coming from any American tradition I can identify – Sousa, Copeland, Ives, Glass, Adams – it’s far more European mid-20th Century sounding to my ear. Nevertheless it is well put together, well played and makes for interesting listening if you are a fan of the concerto or the era I mention.
Perhaps ‘Rituals for Five Percussionists & Orchestra (2002)’ is more identifiably American in style having some of the impressionistic jazzy urban bustle indicative of a Gershwin or Bernstein piece, but again the same European tradition is constantly evident. The first movement ‘with its dramatic introduction evokes a mystery to be unfolded. The combination of percussion and horns is particularly intriguing. We are then led on into ‘Ambulation’ which is one of those jerky trips through a colourful excitement filled landscape which are to me more typically American in style than anything that’s gone before. ‘Remembrances’ with nairy a hint of ‘memorialising’ in my view is darker, more sinister, perhaps rather Eastern [or even Japanese] in provenance, although riding in tandem with some more post-war Teutonic Gloom. The concluding movement ‘Contests’ is rather more upbeat and jollier, evoking as it does frantic activity and enjoyment. So even though I was totally unable to take on board the composers descriptions of her music, I did find it relatively simple to interpret on my own terms. Whether this be a good or bad thing, I can’t say but have to admit the music was really quite captivating despite the package designer’s best attempts to stop me listening to it!