Sunday 10 January 2016

Jeffrey Leiser’s The Summit: A Symphony in Four Movements is full of fine ideas and effectively orchestrated on a new release from Discovery Music and Vision

Jeffrey Leiser is a composer, producer and screenwriter. He started in 2001 with his brother Eric's short film Autumn before moving on to compose original music and sound edit twenty three short films and four feature films, including Glitch in the Grid, for which he was awarded a Gold Medal from the Park City Film Music Festival.

As a musician, he has released ten albums through iTunes and CDBaby. He is the co-founder of Albino Fawn Productions, an independent film company focused on exhibiting experimental, non-narrative, and/or spiritual works. As a screenwriter, Leiser wrote Finding Infinity, a biopic about the German mathematician, Georg Cantor (1845-1918). He also composed Time Squares and is writing an opera about Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, the Norse woman born around the year 980 in Laugarbrekka, Iceland and who appears in The Vinland Sagas. He has recently completed the score for the feature film Theosis.

The Summit: A Symphony in Four Movements, his first full-length symphony, was recorded at Avatar Studios in New York City on 15th April 2015 and has recently been released by Discovery Music and Vision

This is an unusual disc in that it is a collaboration with orchestrators, Andres Soto and Mitchell McCarthy. The performance is from a specially formed orchestra that draws upon first class musicians including principals from other orchestras. The conductor is Harrison Hollingsworth .

The Symphony is inspired by one of Leiser’s great passions, the mystery of upper mathematics and, in particular, the work of Georg Cantor, the 19th c. German mathematician who discovered an ‘infinity of infinities.’  The composer’s childhood fear of infinity and heaven is the cornerstone of the ascent in The Summit.

A repeated solo harp note opens Movement I soon joined by a flute and other instruments and reaching a rich flowing melody, full of breadth. The music soon changes to a more detailed, rhythmic section for woodwind before the broad flowing theme returns. The music develops through a variety of passages of drama and power as well as quite thoughtful moments, most effectively orchestrated. It is the orchestral subtleties and varieties that add so much to the interest, helping to build the music. Soon there is a passage for piano before a very effective rhythmic staccato passage. Leiser certainly has a gift for melody. There is another passage for piano and orchestra before the opening returns quietly for flute, harp and percussion. Shimmering strings underlay staccato brass before rising again to push ahead. A solo violin is heard before a hushed orchestra and chimes lead to the coda on a timpani roll.

Movement II opens quietly with a gentle, rather sad melody. A solo flute quietly takes the theme before the orchestra returns, led by oboe and clarinet to weave with other woodwind a particularly fine passage. The orchestra rises with a fine flow pointed up by the piano before a further lovely woodwind passage brings a lovely bubbling gentle sound. The harp joins to add a lovely gossamer texture. There are many fine instrumental contributions as the music progresses, not least from the brass. Part way, there is a rhythmically pointed section for brass and percussion before swirling forward rhythmically, creating an impressive flow and drive. There are passages of fine rhythmic pulse before the music eventually slows to a more gentle forward flow with a hushed cymbal stroke and woodwind fluttering bringing a lovely coda.

Movement III opens on a sudden held string phrase, over which woodwind bring a theme. Double basses play staccato chords as the theme weaves ahead. This is a lovely idea, bringing a drama to underline the flowing melody. Percussion point up the music with brass joining as the music slowly increases in power. The piano joins in a rising and falling line leading to a jaunty theme that soon adopts a happier flowing melody. Timpani bring a note of caution as the music falls quieter through some lovely moments. The drama increases with tubular bell chimes heard before an oboe takes the melody in a lovely passage. The rhythmic theme returns, brass join and the piano can be heard rippling as the music strides forward confidently but suddenly fades to a hushed coda.

A recorder brings a lovely little melody over a harp with pizzicato strings to open Movement IV. A solo violin, with the orchestra, leads forward, the strings bringing a lovely rising and falling flow. There are some fine individual string passages, almost chamber like before a most effective rhythmic passage for percussion over pizzicato strings. Brass add bold phrases as the music develops with many individual instrumental contributions. Eventually there is a quiet, slow, gentle passage for tinkling bell and strings. Woodwind weave through the texture as do brass before a theme for piano and hushed strings that has something of a ‘scotch snap.’ The music rises to push to the coda and brings a real sense of conclusion. 

This is undemanding music but full of fine ideas, effectively orchestrated. With a very fine recording, excellent performance and informative booklet notes this is a release that will appeal to many. 

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