ROREM:  End of Summer for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (1985).  Book of Hours for Flute and Harp (1975).  Bright Music for Chamber Ensemble (1987).
The Fibonacci Sequence
NAXOS 8.559128 (B) (DDD) TT:  59:59

It's nice to see so quintessentially "American" a personality as Ned Rorem getting international play and recognition. The Fibonacci Sequence is the ensemble-in-residence at England's Kingston University, which sponsored this recording. The music is appealing, with numerous passages deploying the composerís characteristic modes of turbulent moto perpetuo and searching lyricism.

Book of Hours (1975) for flute and harp, is cast in eight short movements are named for, and presumably inspired by, the canonical hours of Christian prayer (Matins, Lauds, Prime, and so forth). Predictably, there is a fair amount of meditative music, skillfully wrought and executed. Rorem's harp writing incorporates some imaginative touches: while he resorts to traditional lush arpeggiations in the Prime movement, he deploys the instrumentís ominous bass fundamentals effectively in Lauds, and elsewhere draws from it a restrained, hieratic cantabile.

In this performance, Bright Music (1987) for chamber ensemble—flute, two violins, 'cello, and piano—begins less promisingly. Flutist Anna Noakes's timbre, a bit keen-edged in Book of Hours, turns positively shrill in the opening Fandango, spoiling even the appealing French-waltz passage. (Uncharacteristically, Rorem's writing seems not to exploit the flute's particular timbral or technical advantages, and I kept wondering whether the piece wouldn't have been better for just strings and piano.) The most appealing parts of the piece are a broad, wistful chorale—the central "song" of the Dance-Song-Dance movement—and the lyrical passages of the following Another Dream, hovering delicately between serenity and unease.

Once past the uningratiating series of violin double-stops at the start—though Jonathan Carney plays them wel—End of Summer for clarinet, violin, and piano, which opens the program, is the most attractive piece here. Rorem obviously finds this combination of instruments congenial: the clarinet and violin are similarly capable of cutting through the textures with bite, then blossoming into a haunting espressivo, while the piano contributes both forward drive and liquid tonal cascades. Indeed, the lustrous yet focused clarinet tone of Julian Farrell sounds most apt to the composer's aesthetic.

The playing is consistently well-prepared, perceptive, and (save for my reservations about Noakes) beautiful, and the recorded sound is handsome.

S.F.V. (March 2003)