Baba Yaga, Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Quinta Del Sordo.
Isles of Shoals
Ira Levin, cond;
Ransom Wilson, cond;
Anastasia Khitruk (vn);
Łukasz Długosz (fl); London SO
FLEUR DE SON 58018 (69:56)
Michael Dalmau Colina, born in 1948, had a distinguished career as a jazz and popular performer, composer, arranger, engineer, and producer before turning to classical composition (for more details, see David De Boor Canfield’s excellent interview in
35:2). But he’s not really a newcomer (he’s been deeply invested in classical music since childhood), and he’s certainly not untrained (he studied with Robert Ward, Vittorio Giannini, and Roman Vlad, among others). And while traces of his “non-classical” experience may perhaps be heard in his accessibility (he certainly has a good sense of how much the human ear can hear), he is not, on the evidence here, a cross-over artist, much less a composer who plays down to his listeners. Last’s year’s recording featuring
Three Cabinets of Wonder
was highly praised by both Canfield and Stephen Ritter, showing up on both of their Want Lists (although Ritter’s, confusingly, used different titles in a way that might almost make you think he was talking about a different recording). I suspect this new recording will generate similar enthusiasm.
This music is invigorating, imaginative, infectious—and adventurous. I don’t mean “adventurous” in the sense of exploring new ground. Melodically and harmonically, the music is fairly conservative, even familiar-sounding; and while it is not exactly derivative, it does (to borrow Colina’s term) “distill” the work of prior composers in a way that’s easily recognizable. Nor do I mean “adventurous” in the sense of audacious. There’s no “wow” factor here: While the music is often highly dramatic, it doesn’t depend on spectacle to make its points. Rather, it’s adventurous in the way it takes us on an emotional course (Colina tends to think of his music in narrative terms) that’s consistently both engaging and surprising in its subtly shifting terrain.
Pride of place goes to
which is, like
, a work for violin and orchestra inspired by the stunning young virtuoso Anastasia Khitruk. Especially if you know that
incorporates sketches by Fanny Mendelssohn in its first movement, you might well expect this (as I did) to engage in some postmodern recycling of Mussorgsky. It doesn’t do so, although you may hear hints of Liadov. But there certainly is a Russian (or at least Soviet) sound world here. If
was what the composer calls a kind of “role-playing,” an attempt “to write a violin concerto as if I were Felix alive today” then it wouldn’t be unfair to say that
sounds like an attempt to write a concerto as if he were Prokofiev, Kabalevsky, Khachaturian (especially in some of the ethnic flavoring), or Shostakovich (especially in the dance-like opening of the second movement). It’s not exactly a pastiche—but it surely sounds like an homage, and if you love its predecessors, you’ll be drawn in by this one, too.
I doubt anyone will be disappointed by the lack of evident quotation in
; but if there are any such listeners, they’ll be compensated with the middle panel of
Isles of Shoals
, a three-movement flute concerto inspired by an artists’ colony on an island off New Hampshire. This movement, entitled “Sheep May Safely Graze,” takes off from the music you’d expect. It’s here, as surely as anywhere on the disc, that you hear Colina’s kaleidoscopic mood shifting, as the hazy, dreamlike visions of Bach touch on the troubling, the violent, the consoling, and the affirmative. The rest of the piece is enormously effective as well, beginning with an uneasy calm and ending with a dramatic
that opens with what sounds like a reference to Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” and moves brilliantly to an explosive climax.
As for the other works: They too reflect and refract music we know, in a way that seems simultaneously familiar and unsettling. Thus,
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
, a poignant and often anxious Kundera-inspired work for strings, nods toward the Barber
and especially Strauss’s
—but its mood is more unstable, its course less predictable. And while
Quinta De Sordo
, inspired by Goya, displays what the composer calls his “Spanish-Cuban” background, it does so with liberal nods to what we might call the French-Spanish tradition represented by Ravel (
Alborada del gracioso
) and Debussy.
The performances are consistently excellent. Both soloists are virtuosi (listen to how Khitruk tosses off the fiendish cadenza in the first movement of
), both conductors seem committed to the idiom, and the orchestra plays with assurance. Good sound, too. All in all, well worth the attention of anyone looking to expand his or her horizons.
Peter J. Rabinowitz