* Tempest Fantasy (2002)*
* Mood Swings (1999)
* B.A.S.S. Variations (1999)
* Scherzo (2002)
Trio Solisti, David Krakauer (clarinet)*
Naxos 8.559323 Total time: 60:40
Summary for the Busy Executive: Damned nice, but a little less nice and a
little more damned, please.
The Tempest Fantasy, inspired by Shakespeare's play, won for Paul Moravec
the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. As far as I'm concerned, it deserved to win,
even without me knowing the other nominees that year. In other words,
it ain't dreck.
On the other hand, "Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer" conjures up a
certain level of achievement in my mind. Is Moravec really as good as
Barber, Ives, Copland, Carter, Sessions, Adams, Thomson, Menotti, Gould,
Piston, and so on, let alone composers like Gershwin, Ellington, Lees,
or Rosner who never won the Pulitzer (at least, not in their lifetime)?
As Ives himself once said (and I believe it was of the Pulitzer), "Prizes
are for boys," and the prize honors its givers at least as much as its
recipients. I've heard Moravec before. He strikes me as a very fine
craftsman, with a touch of the poet, but ultimately he writes a "faceless"
music. I can think of a lot of composers who could have written Moravec's
music. Nothing singles it out. Furthermore, when I hear a piece, I
ideally want it to ravish me, to sing so beautifully that it moves me
to awe or tears, to dance so joyfully or powerfully that it takes a week
to wipe the grin off my face. I suspect I'm like many other listeners
in that way.
The Tempest Fantasy, for piano trio and clarinet, is a very good piece.
You very likely will enjoy it when you hear it. But it's not something
special, something that you will make a place for in your listening life.
Nevertheless, its five movements, inspired by characters and incidents
in Moravec's favorite play, don't do the expected things. "Ariel," for
example, moves fleetly, but not particularly lightly. We don't get
gossamer fairy wings, but something a lot more substantial and with a
hint of menace. "Prospero" reminds me of a stately Elizabethan pavane,
noble and sad at the same time (this may be my favorite movement). Still
it deflates quicker than a popped balloon when you compare it to Vaughan
Williams's "The cloud-capp'd towers." "Caliban" -- with a bass clarinet
often in its lowest register -- captures the self-pity and moon-calfery
of the model. "Sweet Airs" tries for a moonlit mood. The piece winds
up with a manically energetic "Fantasia," with a beautifully worked-out
The rest of the program belongs to piano trio alone. Mood Swings,
described by the composer as a portrait of "the central nervous system,"
grabs me not at all, and the B.A.S.S. Variations holds my interest only
fitfully. The Scherzo is, according to Moravec a "compact, energetic,
encore-type work," and it fills its purpose with wit. I will say,
however, that many of these works pull from the same small bag of tricks,
without giving us any new perspective on them. Still, Moravec is
relatively young. He may yet surprise me before I die.
David Krakauer and violinist Maria Bachmann are, of course, known, welcome
-- even brilliant presences. Moravec can't complain of these performances,
penetrating and sensitive. The recorded acoustic comes very close to
that of a real recital hall.
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