About the only demonstrable good to come out of George W. Bush’s war on terror is Roger Rudenstein’s discreet, heartfelt condemnation of “above all else, let there be oil,” in his “State of the Union” portion of Nightmare of Reason (birthed in reaction to 9/11 and inspired by Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters 1799 etching).
The three-voice, four-instrument septet incorporates lines from the actual 2005 State of the Union speech to add extra verisimilitude to the biting indictment of wanton destruction under the guise of liberating the oppressed. “No peace without victory” begins with a darkly set overture. Richard Stoltzman’s ever-versatile clarinet leads the fray with pertinent contributions from a clarion trumpet (Terry Everson, whose upper register is a constant pleasure) and Bill Manley’s appropriately jingoistic snare. The stage is quickly set for this American A Soldier’s Tale (cross-reference below). The voices are subtly prefaced with peaceful chords via Paul Dykstra’s empathetic touch. They grow to become a marvel of human despair in ways the current administration will never appreciate.
The frenzy of unstoppable dependence comes through loud and clear in “Addicted to oil.” No parody here. Bassoonist Ron Haroutunian is an ideal match for Stoltzman. Their common approach to articulation and liquid tones subliminally underscores the subject matter. A couple of sudden stops and thirsty continuations credibly spew the notion “Do we have enough? No – never!” The near-perfect vocal trio convincingly scream to the boardroom of Exxon, but no one believes that that management could ever take the first step of the fabled twelve.
Mezzo-soprano D’Anna Fortunato is a miracle of control with Villa-Lobos-like “ah” whether solo or the third voice (with clarinet and bassoon) in “A dark vision of hatred and fear.” Her spectacular changes of register inspire shock and awe of a much truer kind than that which emanates from the White House. Finally, this compelling essay slinks away into darkness that not even the occasional perfect fourth can forgive.
The brooding opening of Rudenstein’s 2006 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano fits like an emotional glove with all that has passed before. The multi-section work is a study of one-on-one relationships, beginning with the gradual establishment of roles and boundaries through which the clarinet is challenged with fiendishly difficult register shifts and squeals that are largely conquered. As the music finds its way, passing through Dykstra’s beautifully rendered moments of inner simplicity and edgy nervousness, it falls to Stoltzman to slip in and join his partner with an effortless legato that is coloured with the too-infrequently-heard hue of Lutoslawki’s Dance Preludes. The energetic finale is both a technical tour de force and an emotional rollercoaster fuelled from a growing sense of urgency that time is running out. When it, inevitably, does, Stoltzman soars to the stratosphere with brilliance, but finds himself alone.
Which may very well explain the inclusion of the Piano Sonata No. 7 in Three Movements. From the oh-so-Schubertian lyricism of the opening measures, Dykstra is at one with Rudenstein’s deeply personal exploration of the human psyche where anger is never far from the surface. The middle movement is an engaging kind of Intermezzo whose varying moods and textures—especially the impish glee that effectively tempers the relentless search for self—that make time evaporate rather than pass. With so much angular construction in the disc up to this point, the appearance of triplets that attempt to calm the “Great Gate of Life” is a structural and compositional gem that teases the desire for consonance and, perhaps, constancy. One last mighty hurrah quashes that fantasy but leaves the ear hoping for the next installment from a composer who fills each canvas with instrumental expertise and the full range of human experience. JWR