This is not only a great gem of a disc, but also a serious candidate for worst album cover of all time. The brilliant oboist Mark Weiger is sitting on a camel, who frankly looks to be in pain (who knows perhaps he or she dislikes oboe music and oboists) in an arid landscape complete with rock avalanche. Clearly, this is the "On the Road" part of the enterprising release at hand. Ah the life of a wandering gypsy oboe player. Rosner used to joke that the photo looked like it was him who was up on the camel; there is actually a very slight resemblance! All I know is it was a great day when I was mailed a promo copy of the release. Needless to say the day it was commercially released I was I'm sure the first to buy it.
At the time this Centaur disc was recorded (1998) and then released (2000), any and every recording of an Arnold Rosner work was a triumph and a completely joyous occasion. I actually think it's fair to say that it was as joyous for me as it was for Arnold himself; the 1990's and early 2000's were frustrating times, yet hopeful as well, Arnold and I would often chat about recording projects in the pipeline, and unfortunately, and with greater frequency-projects that were tentatively "planned" yet often did not come to fruition (the Naxos recordings are a good example, there had been ideas thrown around, especially a project that would feature two American Composers on one release-that other composer might have been Flagello, Persichetti, Dello Joio, or Mennin. I might be forgetting one or two others.
Anyhow I wrote to Naxos of America several times urging them to do such a project, especially as the "American Classics" series had proven to be a huge success. I did hear back from them but the replies were pretty much as expected, that such a venture was at best, in the future, "a possibility". I even contacted founder Klaus Heyman who was very warm and thanked me for the suggestion. At least it was something, I thought. It was ultimately the encouragement and suggestion of music critic and musicologist Walter Simmons (a colleague of Rosner's, and also a friend) who for years wrote (sometimes harsh and hypercritical reviews tbh) for several music journals, including the fabulous Fanfare.) that finally "sealed the deal". Simmon's own review of the disc can be found on his page, here: http://www.walter-simmons.com/articles/99.htm Simmons is possibly the strongest advocate of the music of Nicholas Flagello, and it was indeed the Rosner/Flagello inception that made the project a reality, in 2008 and then again in 2013. Indeed these were cork popping moments!!
The Walter Piston "Suite" and Arnold Rosner's "Sonata" Op. 54 deserve at least, small masterpiece status. The other work that I find at least interesting is Miguel del Aguila's "Sommergesang", however I think the work could have said just as much in a more compressed version, perhaps 5 or so minutes shorter. That, of course, is just my opinion. I still enjoy the piece just the same. Honestly the rest of the program I can do without. I will listen to the whole disc at times, but the other pieces strike me as bland. The Rosner and Piston offerings make the price of admission worth it-at any price.
Walter Piston's Suite has become, with the Hindemith and Poulenc sonatas, standard repertoire for the instrument. It's early Piston, hailing from around 1931, and rather aggressively neoclassic in a Stravinskian way. Little "back-to-Bach-and-Mozart" riffs pop up throughout its five brief movements, although within a modern harmonic vocabulary. Piston moved on from this kind of obvious evocation fairly quickly, and one does see signs of that letting-go even here. The "Sarabande" takes on a hint of a tango. The "Menuetto" is as much a waltz, though pastoral in feeling. The most remarkable movement, the "Nocturne," with more than a hint of Chopin, shows most clearly the neoclassical Romantic Piston became. Really Piston is one of America's finest; why I have not posted more of his music already I dunnoooo.
Rosner's Sonata for Oboe & Piano simply grabs and entrances you from the opening bars. That is a consistent attribute of his music, and says so very much about the heart and soul of the man and his masterful gifts. Rosner can take a bone-simple harmonic idea and make it sheer magic. Try to not feel cheerful whilst listening-especially during the sunny and lyrical opening "Allegro moderato" which sings effortlessly and beautifully. The "Adagio," following such a lighthearted opening, opens up vast spaces and soaring heights. The "Vivace" dances, with an evocation of the Middle East-with touches of melancholy and even of heroism. The emotional punch of this music is positively symphonic. In the last pages there is a remarkable level of something approaching aggression and almost brutality. Quite a juxtaposition to the first movement!
From the opening movement to the last bars of the finale, we travel a great emotional distance on, really, the fairly slender means of oboe and piano....that takes, imo, a ridiculous amount of talent and craftmanship.
Miguel del Aguila (b 1957) was born in Uruguay. He later moved to the States and has written music in, I believe, every genre including (one?) opera. "Sommergesang" (summer song) was written in 1988 and is in a somewhat "quasi-rhumba" style.
Miguel del Aguila
Robert Sibbing "Ballad, Blues & Rag"
David Gompper (b. 1954)
Walter Piston "Suite"
Michael Angell (b. 1964)
11)Noon Song (7:32)
Arnold Rosner "Sonata, Op. 54" for Oboe & Piano
12)Allegro moderato (3:46)