The New Listener (Germany)

This interesting CD from US label Métier shows how varied the levels in the field of neotonal music are today. With the Second Symphony, titled “Etruria” by the Swiss composer Thomas Fortmann, the “Capriccio” for violin and orchestra by Robert Nelson and “Astral Blue” by the US composer Pieter Lieuwen we have here three large-scale works by living composers on the album . As “compensation” for so much contemporary work the listener then is given the chance to hear Merlin Patterson’s transcription of Percy Grainger’s magical cycle “Lincolnshire Posy”.

As if in the times of the good old vinyl record, you could divide this CD confidently into an A and B side. The A-side would contain the frankly relatively uninspired works of Thomas Fortmann and Robert Nelson. Fortmann is a composer who (unfortunately you have to say so) does not write at the highest level, something one notices especially in the orchestration of his Second Symphony. His style is quite unusual for a Central European, actually more reminiscent of the music of American composers such as William Schuman or Roy Harris. Only it is a lot less convincing. His orchestration has large gaps that he fills with large stocks of percussion instruments in his “Etruria” Symphony which becomes ponderous and cumbersome. The whole piece is like a dancing circus elephant, although every effort is not graceful, but sedate and somewhat clumsy.

The “Capriccio” by Robert Nelson is unfortunately by far the weakest song on the album. Although it is technically made much, much better than Fortmann’s symphony and written with smart, effective full orchestration to give a superficial gloss, but altogether the piece is incredibly antiquated. Had I wondered who could have composed this piece, I probably would have decided on a less inspired moment of Arnold Bax. The bulky chromaticism, seems to have constructed by Nelson for the sole purpose so that the violin soloist (the piece is played on this album from the dedicatee of the work Andrzej Grabiec) has something to excel. Musically however, makes little sense, and also seems rather out of place in Nelson’s otherwise extremely conservative musical language.

Now one may wonder why I’m reviewing this album at all, and this is just because of the “B-side”, which begins with the song “Astral Blue” by Pieter Lieuwen. Lieuwen is unfortunately one of the most neglected composers even in his native country. Nevertheless Lieuwen is one to which we must draw attention, because he has everything a good neotonal composer must have: flawless crafts, his own personal “voice” that is immediately recognizable and, above all, he writes wonderfully inspired, really good music that is modern in the best sense although conceptually Lieuwen largely moves in a compositional framework that was already in full force in the 19th century. His music is reminiscent in parts of John Luther Adams, but is much better and has also as a unique “touch” that makes a piece of Lieuwen just unmistakably a piece of Lieuwen. Unfortunately, unfortunately, there are apart from this wonderful piece “Astral Blue” only two other CDs of the music of Pieter Lieuwen for us Germans to enjoy (one at Albany Records and Naxos) – we are realistically never likely to hear a piece of Lieuwens played live at a German concert event) make. Otherwise there is here an ebb, where I personally would like to see a flood, especially as Lieuwen’s music would appeal to a quite large audience, because it is immediately accessible.

Finally, I would like to mention Merlin Patterson transcription of Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy”. Patterson is considered as a professional in the field of tasteful arrangements, and he shows that here. One can hardly resist this Grainger composition. It is simply enchanting, if it does perhaps not constitute “great music” in the strict sense. But it counts on the other hand also as the best “light” music that I can imagine.

“Lincolnshire Posy” was originally written by Grainger for Brass Band. In his new version, Patterson has added not only strings and something “Tschingderassa”, but he has really orchestrated the piece fundamentally anew and achieved a very pleasing result. In this version, one would like to commend this beautiful piece to many symphony orchestras.

And here we are at the last point: the artist. The Moores Symphony Orchestra is the orchestra of the Moores School of Music in Houston. And though obviously we are dealing here with a pure student orchestra, the ensemble has achieved a remarkably high level, which can hold a candle to many professional orchestras. There are sometimes slight weaknesses in the rhythm of the strings to complain, but such small defects are also known by many orchestras with a “bigger” name. Conductor Franz Anton Krager does his job very well and seems to savor the impressive orchestrations which means a lot of fun while listening.

In short, this album is a half-magnificent affair, but the half that can be called “magnificent” is so great that I actually can only recommend buying the CD. And from Moores Symphony Orchestra I’d like to hear more soon. This is a really great ensemble!

—Grete Catus