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CLASSICAL  January 2009

CLASSICAL January 2009

Subject:

Stanley Walden and Retro

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 09:23:22 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (77 lines)

Stanley Walden

*  Maquettes for 2 Pianos (2001)
*  Sh'mah: Duo for Violin and Cello (2002)
*  5 Similes for Piano (1989)
*  Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano (2003)

Spectrum Concerts Berlin.
Naxos 8.559355  Total time: 53:52

Summary for the Busy Executive: What's new?

Stanley Walden claims a small, but devoted circle of performer friends.
A musical jack-of-all-trades, Walden has played clarinet in both the Met
Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, conducted, acted, directed, and
taught, as well as composed.

Walden studied with lyrical American atonalist Ben Weber, and traces of
that remain.  The music tends to drama, and there's also an occasional
engagement with popular sources.  Most of the time, however, Walden gives
us very little that's new.  Much of this music could have appeared eighty
years ago, and by itself there's not always anything individual about
it.  The same problem has faced many conservative composers in the wake
of the heroic generation of interwar composers.  Walden hits more than
he misses, but some of what he writes could have come from a lot of
people.

Maquettes consists of five studies that take on the cast of character
pieces and dances.  "Timbre" asks the players to strum piano strings and
rap various parts of the instrument as well as play on the keyboards.
I like the last two movements, "Air" and "Por Chucho," the best -- the
first a bluesy serenade, the second an evocation of Latin jazz.

Sh'mah is based on the theologically-central hymn of Judaism, the "Sh'mah
Yisrael" (hear, O Israel).  The traditional tune itself was all by itself
enough to drive me from temple.  It reminded me of something you'd sing
in a rathskeller while waving a stein in your hand.  However, Walden
transforms it into a powerful dialogue, so insistent that you wonder
whom it exhorts to listen -- the congregation or God himself?

Walden wrote his 5 Similes to commemorate the deaths of friends.  I
wish the music were more interesting, particularly since he dedicates
the last to Jan DeGaetani, a singer of great warmth and intelligence.
None of these miniatures has much shape.

I never read liner notes before hearing a piece at least once.  I don't
want the writer to influence me, and I don't want to pre-judge a work
unfavorably simply because the writer annoyed me for some reason or
other.  A good thing, too.  I found the piano trio the best music on the
program, certainly the most compelling.  Its four movements -- "Dolente,"
"Passamezzo," "Salsa and Trio," and "Battaglia" -- inhabit some very
dark emotional territory.  The first two struck me as two types of lament:
the first, raw keening; the second, a more formal mourning.  The "Salsa
and Trio," in which I hear strains of the Cuban danzon, provides some
respite, but also some dark undercurrents.  "Battaglia" does not depict
so much a literal battle as internal pressure.  Walden doesn't especially
impress me as a builder of argument, but he does construct gripping
narrative, aided by an uncanny talent for discovering and exploiting
new, beautiful sonorities from the trio combination.  After I finished
my preliminary audition, I read the notes and found that Walden wrote
the trio as he thought of the September 11th massacre.  The music doesn't
bear that symbolic weight, but I don't hold that against it.  It succeeds
as pure music.

The performers include pianists Robert Levin and Yu-Fei Chuang, who do
fine in the Maquettes.  Levin unfortunately can't bring the Similes to
life, but Chuang proves a fine partner in the Horn Trio.  The string
players take the difficult score of the Sh'mah and find its drama. 
Their impeccable double- and triple-stopping doesn't hurt.

Steve Schwartz

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