Friday 15 January 2016

An impressive and worthwhile release from Sorel Music of Judith Lang Zaimont’s Fourth Symphony and First Piano Trio in very fine performances

The American composer Judith Lang Zaimont (b. 1945) began piano lessons with her mother at the age of five and by the age of twelve was studying piano and theory at the Juilliard School.  

Zaimont’s music is frequently played in the United States and abroad and has been recorded by such labels as Naxos, Albany, Arabesque, Koch, Leonarda and 4-Tay and has been commissioned by ensembles and solo performers world-wide. Her orchestral music has been repeatedly recognized with the First Prize - Gold Medal in the Gottschalk Centenary International Composition Competition, First Prize in the Chamber Orchestra Composition and First Prize in the International 1995 McCollin Competition for Composers.

Her works have been performed by orchestras such as the Baltimore, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Greenville (SC), Rockford (IL), Mississippi, Madison (WI), Harrisburg (PA), East Texas and Nassau (NY) symphonies, the Women's Philharmonic (CA), the Berlin Radio Orchestra (Germany), Czech Radio Orchestra (Prague), the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra (Moscow, Russia), Kharkov Philharmonic (Ukraine), Pro Arte Chamber Orchestras (NY and Boston) as well as wind ensembles at Florida State University, University of Minnesota, Georgia State and University of Virginia.

Many of her 100 works are prize-winning compositions, including four symphonies, chamber opera, oratorios and cantatas, music for wind ensemble, vocal-chamber pieces with varying accompanying ensembles, a wide variety of chamber works and solo music for string and wind instruments, piano, organ, and voice.

Judith Lang Zaimont is a distinguished teacher, formerly a member of the faculties of Queens College and Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory of Music, she was Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department at Adelphi University from 1989 to 1991 and from 1992 to 2005 served as Professor of Composition at the University of Minnesota School of Music, as well as division chair and Scholar of the College of Liberal Arts.

It is Zaimont’s Pure, Cool (Water) - Symphony No.4 and her Piano Trio No.1 ‘Russian Summer’  that are on a new release from Sorel Music featuring the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra  conducted by Niels Muus and Peter Winograd (violin) , Peter Wyrick (cello)  and Joanne Polk (piano)

SC CD 003
A single rhythmic motif runs right through Pure, Cool (Water) - Symphony No. 4 (2013), a work that ‘draws attention to the world’s chronic water shortage.’ Indeed the composer’s own father was a New York City Water Commissioner and her own home is in a dry region of the USA, Arizona.

The first movement, in a current. (The River) opens in the basses with a feeling of expectation. Woodwind and brass instruments gently weave through this opening sequence bringing a forward flow. The music rises up the orchestra briefly before continuing the opening flow. Soon the music rises in drama and power but there are quieter, more still, reflective passage before the orchestra rises again, ever changing and flowing.  Zaimont achieves some subtle orchestral sounds that bring delicate textures. Midway the pace picks up as the music adopts a brighter sound, moving through more varying passages, finding moments of drama pointed up by percussion before achieving a peak in a passage of ever surging forward drive, before moving to a gentle coda.

as a solid (Ice) has a beautifully conceived opening that soon finds a sharper edge as the music develops through passages of remote, glacial tone and more violent moments. There are passages of static icy sound through which sharper textures cut, before a sudden swirl brings the conclusion.

Short drops of sound from woodblock, triangle and bow taps create the opening of falling drops (Rainshower) before the orchestra suddenly moves ahead, full of dynamism and energy. The orchestra retains the opening rhythmic pulses and percussive sounds revealing the rain shower to be quite a dramatic downpour. Later the music moves through a quieter, fast moving section with a myriad of instrumental details before quietening in the coda.

still (The Tarn) brings a lovely mellifluous, gently flowing opening through which various woodwind are heard. This music often creates a feeling of restrained power even before the timpani and cymbals bring a more dramatic section. Soon we arrive at a passage for cello which brings a more restrained nature, but timpani bring the dramatic music back despite the lovely cello line restraining the music. Pizzicato basses add a subtle rhythmic touch before the whole orchestra moves forward with a fine sweep, rising to a passage of great grandeur. It is the wistful cello that again brings about a gentler passage before we are led by woodwind to a gentle coda, the cello having a last say.

In the fifth and final movement, in waves and torrents (Ocean) we reach the ocean with a hushed opening where a flute leads the melody over tremolo strings. Suddenly the tempo and dynamics pick up with brass, timpani and side drums pointing up the drama, bringing many individual details as the music moves ahead and swirls around. There is a slower moment when the brass seems to hover menacingly under the gentler orchestra before moving through passages where there is much going on in the orchestra. Indeed, this whole work is finely and distinctively orchestrated. Later there is the most exquisite evocation of the movement of the sea before rising forcefully, led by brass with timpani strokes to a tremendous climax. The music falls away but the peace is set against an underlying shifting motif over which woodwind weave a theme. The underlying theme in the basses continues to surge as we are led to a peaceful coda.

This is a symphony that is evocative, full of variety, power, subtlety and forward movement. The Janacek Philharmonic under Niels Muus provides a fine performance.

Peter Winograd (violin), Peter Wyrick (cello) and Joanne Polk (piano) bring us Zaimont’s Piano Trio No.1 ‘Russian Summer’ (1989). This was commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the Skaneateles Summer Chamber Music Festival (NY) in 1989. The composer tells us that ‘This Trio is Russian because it’s flavored by my own middle-European lineage – Russian, Polish and Hungarian roots; and the Summer portion of the title is because it was written primarily during the warm months.’

Nocturne opens with a wistful little theme, beautifully developed by these players with Zaimont creating some lovely moments, fine sonorities and textures and some quite unusual harmonies. The music rises to a more dramatic section leading to some firm gritty textures but soon falls back to its more thoughtful nature. Later the music suddenly leaps into a fast rolling passage before again slowing with some most lovely playing from these players, especially as we are led to the gentle, hushed coda.

The violin and piano gently open Romp, soon joined by the cello as the music adopts a skittish, fast moving theme. Here, these players provide terrific ensemble as they hurtle forward through the ever developing music, eventually finding a terrific ebb and flow. Later the cello, violin, then piano take the theme in turns before weaving ahead. The music falls to a slower, quizzical passage where the three players ruminate on the theme before slowly gaining in tempo to race to the coda.

This is a terrific Trio brilliantly played here by these artists.  

This is an impressive and worthwhile release that brings excellent recordings and informative booklet notes. 

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