June 2003

Ned Rorem - The End of Summer, Book of Hours, Bright Music
The Fibonacci Sequence, performers
Naxos 8559128
Released: 2003

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Naxos, budget label extraordinaire, continues to find ways to promote and sell classical music to a public that seems hell bent on allowing the genre to fade away. In the days when even classical labels are more interested in promoting pretty faces than seeking out new talent, Naxos takes another path. They seek out talented orchestras that have yet to make a reputation for themselves and produce wonderful recordings, often of less popular scores.

Ned Rorem is an American composer and essayist who was born in Richmond, Indiana in 1923. Rorem is as well known for his candid diaries as for his musical endeavors. He has written 14 books, composed three symphonies, four piano concertos, six operas, ballets, theatre music, and hundreds of songs. Time Magazine has labeled Rorem "the world’s best composer of art songs."

The three pieces of chamber music featured here were composed fairly recently. Rorem wrote End of Summer in 1985, Book of Hours in 1975, and Bright Music in 1987. His music is a blend of almost meditative tone poems with storms of turbulent virtuoso playing. Moods change rapidly from tranquillity to fury and back again. Although the music seems to be very modern in style, there are also traces of traditional music, with touches of Brahms and Chopin.

End of Summer begins the collection with a three-movement piece composed for clarinet, violin, and piano. The first movement, "Capriccio," combines intense violin solos with intervals of reflection. I felt almost worn out when at last I reached the second movement, "Fantasy," which gave me a much-needed lyrical rest. The piece ends with a movement called "Mazurka," which refers to the old Polish round-dance that is reflected in this finale.

The second piece, Book of Hours, for flute and harp, is made up of eight movements named after the different hours of the day for Christian prayer. The music is quite meditative and restrained, but incorporates enough imagination to draw the listener from movement to movement without fatigue or restlessness.

The CD ends with Bright Music, a suite for flute, two violins, cello and piano. Here we return to intensity that borders on unease. In the opening, "Fandango," the mood is immediately set in what appears to be an almost furious race of instruments, leading into an almost appealing French waltz, and then it’s back to the races. The ever-changing pace continues for over 21 minutes until at last it reaches the final movement, "Chopin," a fantasy on Chopin's B flat minor Piano Sonata, which would have left Chopin straining for breath.

The performances of the British chamber ensemble, The Fibonacci Sequence, seem consistent throughout. The recording is quite good also, providing ample focus on individual instruments without losing the cohesiveness of the ensemble.