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CD Feature/ The Fibonacci Sequence: "Ned Rorem: Chamber Music"

img  Tobias

“It's all color, color, color.”, Ned Rorem somewhat resigningly remarked in an interview with “Men’s Style” in 1995, when asked about the tendency of a new generation of composers to lend the same importance to composing and orchestration,  “And you say to yourself, where is the tune, where is counterpoint, where is harmony? Everything is orchestration. For me the premier ingredient in music is melody, no matter how disguised.” The great and slightly ironic thing about the release at hand is that it makes his point amply clear – while simultaneously proving how vital instrumentation is to his music.

“The End of Summer” comes as part of Naxos’ bid to demonstrate that Rorem’s fame as a writer of songs (the Times, in their predictable exuberant style, even dubbed him "the world's best composer of art songs”) may have been wholy justified, but sadly overshadowed his achievments in other fields. Thanks to this continuing effort, therefore, the interested music fan will be able to listen to recordings of the great American composer’s three symphonies and his Piano-, Violin- and Flute-concertos – as well as to the chambermusical works collected here, all of which strong enough to stand on their own feet: The flute and harp miniatures of “Book of Hours”, as well as the varied pack of “Bright Music” would have made excellent headline material as well. Maybe it is the very melodic power that Rorem talked about in the interview-quote above which just makes “End of Summer” stand out. A three-part suite encompassing emotions from bittersweet memories to drowsy and downbeat depressions up to the optimism of something new beginning, it taps the full potential of its themes, however never lingering in one spot too long in a continous search for new ways of formulating its sentiments. From short, two-note Clarinet-staccatos to wallowing motives passed on from one instrument to next, the work appears in the very floating mood reminiscent of an early autumn day spent sitting in front of one’s window watching the leaves change colour. With its extremely reduced instrumentation of Clarinet, Violin and Piano, the piece goes to lengths in finding exciting combinations and fill the gaps almost necessarily left behind in such a restricted ensemble. Rorem realises a full and rich sound with very different means in all of the movements, engaging the players in group-play, contrasts between quick keyboard races and slow thematic development in the other voices and interlocking cycles of melodic lines – all of which fall under his orchestrational skills. The same can be said about “Book of Hours”, eight tracks of not even twenty minutes lenght, which move from morning to nightfall and rely on the interaction between Flute and Harp. While Rorem’s themes are the motor which, quietly purring, drives on these pieces, it is the sound palette from metallic string sonorities to sometimes sharp, then again dulcet wind vibrations that lends them their soul.

Of course part of this is down to the creative imagination of the Fibonacci Sequence, whose flexible setup allows them to take on anything from the compositions already mentioned to a fully-fledged Chamber ensemble work as “Bright Music”. But to a large extent, it has to do with the fact that composition and orchestration are always linked, no matter where you put your personal preferences. Of course, Rorem was and is aware of this – the fact that he kept stressing melody and harmony nevertheless may have been one of the deciding factors in making him one of the most played composers of his generation today.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: The Fibonacci Sequence
Homepage: Ned Rorem
Homepage: Naxos Records

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