MORAVEC: The Time Gallery (2000). Protean Fantasy (1993). Ariel
Eighth Blackbird. Peter Sheppard-Ska
erved (violin); Aaron
Naxos 8.559267 (B) (DDD) TT: 56:06
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A lot of notes moving very fast. Paul Moravec, an up-and-comer on the fast
track, won the 2004 Pulitzer for music. These three chamber works give
you some idea why.
Moravec writes in a neo-Romantic idiom, but without nineteenth-century
pastiche. Like Barber, he allows modern dissonance, but the phrasing and
melodic shapes wouldn't have shocked Brahms. He puts together his music
very well -- one remarks on a high degree of finish -- and he aims high.
However, one must look beyond craft to explain the power of these works.
Moravec wants to move you and relies heavily on nineteenth-century rhetoric
to do so.
I just wish I liked these pieces more. While I can acknowledge their craft,
their skill, and their expressive component, nothing really grabs me. Moravec
doesn't surprise me or convince me that others couldn't produce roughly
the same result. Barber, for example, gives me genius themes and brilliant,
quirky counterpoint. On the other hand, there's nothing here other than
a generic vibe and too many empty listening calories. Moravec and I operate
on two different wave-lengths. For me, Daniel Kellogg, with much the same
idiom, does more. But none of us can like everything. Your mileage, as
they say, will probably vary.
Nevertheless, my reservations definitely do not extend to the performers.
If not already, Eighth Blackbird deserves to be treated like a rock star.
I rarely encounter contemporary specialists who play with such passion,
understanding, and knock-out musicianship. The Time Gallery challenges
any group to simply get through it. Eighth Blackbird gives a reading of
nuance and detail, one that normally requires years of acquaintance with
a complex work. Sheppard-Skaerved and Shorr, not quite at that level, nevertheless
tear through the fantasies in an irresistible sweep. Their problem lies
with the works themselves, too similar to avoid one blurring into the next.
The fantasies (Moravec won the Pulitzer for the Tempest Fantasy, a later
version of the Ariel) come across as the same kind of piece, which reinforces
the image of the composer as a narrow talent.
But don't take my word for it. Listen for yourself. You may well arrive
at a different conclusion. Naxos makes the price for experimenting a little
easier to bear.
S.G.S. (June 2006)