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Review: Chamber Music by Morton Gould

The MHS Review 405, VOL. 12, NO.9• 1988

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Paul Snook, Fanfare (March/April 1988)


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Concerto Concertante: Prologue and Processional; Toccata; Meditation; Humoresque; Flourishes; Epilogue. Masako Yanagita, Violin; Alexander Peskanov, Piano; Bronx Arts Ensemble; William Scribner, Artistic Director. 'Cellos: Stringendo; Sostenuto; Pizzicato; Spiccato. Violoncello Society, Inc.; Stephen Kates, President; Morton Gould, Conductor.

Pavanne (from American Symphonette No. 2; Arranged by Laurence Taylor). Bronx Arts Ensemble; William Scribner, Artistic Director.

Monon Gould's richly deserved reputation as a creator of music in a pops-Americana vein somewhat obscures the large body of work he has written which makes use of large-scale abstract forms in an esthetically more elevated and complex style. (There are at least two symphonies--the First and the Third-that satisfy these requirements, plus a lovely and elaborate viola conceno--just recorded by Louisville; the Dialogues for piano and or­chestra; the Soundings for orchestra--once also available on Louisville; the Concerto for Or­chestra; the recent Flute Concerto, plus many more.) Of course, one must always recognize that in Gould's prolific and all-encompassing im­agination there is no hard-and-fast line of demar­cation between the popular and the classical, as demonstrated in the magnificently realized syn­thesis of Spirituals for string orchestra, the "West Point" Symphony (no. 4), and the Fall River Legend ballet.

This commendable MHS release features, for the most part, this ostensibly "serious" side of Gould's musically polymath talents. The Concer­to Concertante of 1981-82 for violin, piano, and wind quintet testifies, not only to Gould's long­standing interest in neo-baroque forms (even the American Sympbonettes are miniature adapta­tions, in a populist idiom, of early classical pro­cedures), but also to his continuing exploration of sonic structures through unusual instrumen­tal combinations. (During the 1940s Gould pro­duced a Concerto Grosso for four violins and or­chestra as well as Inventions for four pianos and orchestra--the latter premiered by Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic; then there are the more recent Vivaldi Gallery and Venice for divided orchestras, once available on RCA.)

The six-movement work is not really a con­certo in the traditional sense but more of a chamber version of a "Brandenburg"-type ensemble, where the principle of "concertante" opposition--and overlapping and mirroring­--is carried through a wide range of contexts and moods: "Prologue and Processional"; "Toc­cata"; "Meditation"; "Humoresque"; "Flourishes"; "Epilogue." Although the violin is putatively the protagonist (the soloist even starts and ends the piece offstage, adding to the work's dramatic conception), all six of the other instruments are occasionally spotlighted and treated soloistically. And, although the idiom is comparatively angular and severe--recalling at times the textures and timbres of a yankee­-accented I'Histoire du Soldat--there are plenty of elements drawn from the American musical vernacular which Gould has done so much to in­corporate into his concert works-particularly in the bluesy "Meditation" and the syncopated "Humoresque."

However, this is not a work that yields up its secrets and virtues upon immediate encounter; one has to grow into it gradually, because Gould is not in any way "writing down" to his listeners here. And throughout its length it is dominated by the composer's distinctive gift of inven­tiveness, operating in every sense: thematically, sonically, and psychologically. In fact, the work could just as appropriately be titled "Concert In­ventions."

This reviewer has never been partial to pieces written for large aggreagations of identical in­struments (spare us the innumerable clarinet sex­tets from dozens of Frenchmen!), but Gould's aptly titled 'Cellos, commissioned in 1984 by the Second American Cello Congress, and inter­preted fervently here by an octet of members of the New York Violoncello Society, is a very ef­fective suite pitting two relatively lyrical movements--"Scringendo" and "Sostenuto"­--against two relatively vigorous ones-"Piz­zicato" and "Spiccato."

The arrangement by Laurence Taylor for woodwind quintet of the Pavanne from the Se­cond American Sympbonette--which has achieved independent status as a pops classic­--demonstrates that this insouciant and utterly beguiling tune would sound irresistible even if played by a congress of kazoos!

We hope this digital recording, produced by bassoonist William Scribner, who is Artistic Director of the Bronx Arts Ensemble, and ex­cellently recorded by David Hancock, is just the first in a long series from MHS devoted co first recordings of native American repertoire.

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