JWR Articles: CD - Concordia Chamber Ensemble (Conductor: Marin Alsop) - February 28, 2006
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Concordia Chamber Ensemble

4 4
51 min.

MMC2135
Homage steals the show

Composers can’t help but be influenced by all of the music they’ve heard. Chord progressions, bits of melody, orchestration—all of these elements seep into the conscious (and frequently unconscious) treasure trove of creative memory. Taken to extremes, the world cheers-on certain film composers whose success would have been slight but for the trailblazing labours of Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov and Richard Strauss. What, then, could be more daunting than consciously paying tribute to much-heralded musicians in a manner that still purports to be new?

Fortunately, Peter Homans has no such fear, making his trio of true music appreciations the clear highlight of Concordia Chamber Ensemble’s latest disc. The set kicks off with a bow to Frank Zappa, chock-a-block full of pulsating drums and ridden cymbal—imbued with tantalizing—if murky—chords and voices that let the mallets fall where they may. Conductor Marin Alsop most certainly enjoys the heady trip, but a dash or two of relax would, in true irony, tighten things considerably.

But then persuasive and pervasive “Bill” takes stage. Based on the classic “Here’s that Rainy Day,” the ears are immediately filled with warmth, feel and colour that can’t help but induce hitting the replay button to provide another helping. The piano is supportive and assertive as required, while the strings—whether plucked or bowed—add extra hue, before the brassy, up-tempo middle springs into life then lift, from the jazzy clarinet escapades until the flute escapes—temporarily seul. Homans’ crafty return is no mere “once more with feeling,” but rather “feeling much more, again.”

The nightcap is an invigorating and energetic scamper into the world of Stravinsky—exciting at every turn even as the devilish ensemble nearly slips its leash.

The album opens with a box of more than a dozen confections written by John Carbon, featuring violinist Claire Chan. Chan’s tone, technique and temperament become the magnificent array of chocolate that coats the constantly varying filling of each miniature. Sketches indeed. The frenzy of “Vignettes of the Wind” (with a marvellous bit of blue as the harp disappears) and the right-up-to-the-bridge flurry of “Capriccio” will leave listeners hungry for more. Chan’s easy, but always focussed legato, whether leading or accompanying, etch an unforgettable “Dawn,” while the penultimate “Minor Song” oozes near-perfect, delicate ensemble until the “Two Children” (sounding more like a covey of kids) brings the proceedings to a halt.

The title begs the question, “Where’s the final form?” which, hopefully, will find its way into another recording session where the solo can be placed slightly forward even as her able accompanists are moved a hair back.

The Sirius String Quartet and violinist Mary Rowell step into the fray of William Thomas McKinley’s Crazy Rags for String Quartet and deliver a varied quintet of ideas, forms and styles that briefly give a nod to Joplin before shifting into a soundscape of modern times.

“Just Startin’” quickly “unlaxes” and morphs to an industrial-strength rag, notable for its edgy bite. The solo cello is well into the string and the soul, infusing “Blue Ballad” with real emotion even as its extreme registers and effective doublings create a vision that spans centuries with the addition of antique cymbals from another après-midi. City dwellers everywhere will identify with the frantic scramble around the musical landscape of “Urban News,” which nearly bursts into tango, before the angst resumes. But that’s not news!

In “Walkin’ Home,” Alsop finds the perfect pace, un vrai andante, and ably navigates through the dollops of Gershwin, Hershey Kay and Bartók, needing only a six minute film to capture the many visual images that come to mind. Initially, “Boogie Rock” suffers from percussion that needs to aim its interventions more towards the pulse, but quickly settles down to its insistent course. The quartet scrubs up a storm then strums along with the trumpet, before the saucy bassoon lightens the load temporarily, but the joy won’t come—left for another day—then all are dismissed with a snap. JWR

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Conductor - Marin Alsop
Repertoire:
Crazy Rags (1997) for string quartet and chamber ensemble - William Thomas McKinley
Rasgos (Sketches) (1992) for Violin and Chamber Ensemble - John Carbon
Tribute (1997) for Chamber Ensemble - Peter Homans
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