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Dip Your Ears, No. 81

available at Amazon
P. Moravec, Tempest Fantasy, et al.,
Trio Solisti, David Krakauer

Paul Moravec’s Tempest Fantasy (for piano trio and bass-/clarinet) has been much written about - little wonder for a work that brought its composer the Pulitzer (2004) and has been picked up enthusiastically by groups that champion modern music. Especially so since the Tempest Fantasy is remarkably accessible music. Picturesque, conventionally beautiful at times, but without pandering to the ears' lowest harmonic expectations. Music that works with all the traditional tools from the composer's workshop which have changed surprisingly little since Bach - but Moravec uses them to create music anew. "Fresh" - as overused as that word must surely be - still has descriptive value when talking about his music.

In Washington alone the Tempest Fantasy has been played three, four times last season... including a performance at the Corcoran Gallery introduced by the composer himself.

One could try to hunt for influences in the music - or rather: discover accidental musical analogies. Telling or not as that may be, you might hear Mompou one moment, Debussy another, perhaps 'whimsical' Hindemith... even Poulenc. It could not be further removed from Adams, Reich, or Glass.
It would be failure on the part of the composer not to make a work of that title sound tempestuous and failure on part of the critic to find no other description for it. Alas, Mr. Moravec himself described the opening of the fifth and last movement (Fantasia) so and quoting him is my excuse for not coming up with descriptive prose more purple.

Fantasia, which might well have been titled “Prospero Prevailing,” sums up the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tempest Fantasy’s first four movements: a spiky-joyous and flighty characterization of Ariel; the melancholic cello that is a lamenting Prospero; the limping dance of Caliban in the third movement (Peter and the Wolf just around the corner). And Sweet Airs, exposed on ‘Ariel’s’ violin and inspired by Caliban’s speech “The Isle is Full of Noises” (III.ii.130–138). G-D-A-E (the violin’s open strings) dominate Ariel, the Prospero cello-theme is prominently summoned in the Fantasia - but now imbued with the jazzy beat the first movement hinted at. Caliban, a “misshapen monster” (Moravec) is portrayed by David Jones’s bass clarinet. Apt, too – since the description “misshapen monster” equally applies to that absurd-looking instrument... a Three-Mile-Island love-child between a clarinet and a saxophone.
(ionarts, "Moravec and More at the Contemporary Music Forum")

You can find the humor of Carter - but at a smaller rate of admission as regards harmonic departure from what most ears are used to. And less of the knotty intellectualism that Carter displays. (At least compared to his American colleagues... compare Carter to Boulez and you will find the former a frivolous stroll along the beach of atonality.)

Naxos has now brought some of Paul Moravec's works, including the Tempest Fantasy and Mood Swings (the Washington Post's "best new Classical Composition of 1999) to a wider public by re-issuing the 2004 Arabesque recording on their "American Classics" line.

Trio Solisti (Alexis Pia Gerlach - cello, Maria Bachman - violin, and Jon Klibonoff - piano) and John Krakauer on clarinet(s) supply a performance that conveys all the glory of this music and cannot be faulted on any account. And where I found the third and fourth movements a bit longer than necessary in performance, this performance had me look for possibilities (much less necessary) judicious cuts in vain. Undoubtedly a highlight of the "American Classics" series - more reviews of which will be forthcoming.

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