for Cello and Orchestra.
for Violin and Chamber Orchestra.
for Flute and Chamber Orchestra
Nicole Paiement, cond;
James Smith, cond;
Matt Haimovitz (vc);
Curtis Macomber (vn);
Christina Jennings (fl);
University of Wisconsin C O
ALBANY 1390 (74:05)
Laura Elise Schwendinger (b. 1962) may be a new name to you, as it was to me. Having studied with Andrew Imbrie and Olly Wilson at University of California, Berkeley, she is currently associate professor of composition at the University of Wisconsin and artistic director of its Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. She’s won awards, had prestigious commissions and premieres, attracted first-class musicians (as attested by those on this disc). What does her music sound like? Well, judging by the three works on this release, it doesn’t fit into any of the convenient categories; it’s not New Tonality, New Complexity, Indeterminacy, Spectralism, or Spiritual Minimalism. It’s sturdy, well crafted, colorfully orchestrated, chromatically disciplined, densely animated, lyrically alert. It reminds me, at various times, of Barber, Britten, Toru Takemitsu, and Frank Martin—does that make her a mid-century romantic modernist? Not really, because her music has at its core her own impressive point of view.
Offering three concertos on a single disc could be risky business, but though they share a stylistic consistency, each offers distinctive details.
, for flute and chamber orchestra, is the most recent (2009), at 11 minutes the most compact, and the most accessible. The wide-ranging flute line is set into a hothouse environment of tremulous strings, ringing percussion, and sighing reeds.
(2007), a four-movement, 30-minute concerto for cello and orchestra, alternates between agitated dance-like episodes and introspective moods; its material is tightly wound and full of surprising shifts and contrasts, with the cello playing the role of stranger in a strange land. I was especially drawn, however, to the violin concerto,
(2008), three extended movements—Schwendinger isn’t afraid to stretch her muscles—that allow the violin to bristle and wax rhapsodic (and, occasionally, wistful), responding to the fanciful, emphatic orchestral provocation. In these works, Schwendinger displays an acute ear for engaging melodic contours and evocative settings. She’s also extremely fortunate to have such skillful performers committed to her music—there’s no insecurity of intent or unfamiliarity with the scores evident here. Well done.