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Friday, October 10, 2014

Walter Ross, Triumvirate, Concertos for Clarinet, Piano and Double Bass

The number of composer active today is virtually as countless as the stars in the firmament, as is the number of releases devoted to them. It is impossible to keep up with the statistical density of what's being produced. All one can do is listen and report in on the ones that impress as worthy whenever one can.

Such a composer is Walter Ross (b. 1936) who studied under Robert Beadell, Robert Palmer and Karel Husa. He is active as a double bassist (in the Blue Ridge Chamber Orchestra) in addition to his composing.

The present volume serves as a good introduction to his music, covering his "Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra", his "Piano Concerto 'Mosaics'", and his "Clarinet Concerto". Triumvirate (Ravello 7893) is the title, not inappropriately. Ross gives us a modernist tonality in a style that fits in with some of the American composers of the 20th century, expressively neo-romantic at times, classically formed, with a slight rusticity that hearkens back ever so subtly to an Americana of yesterday while at the same time having a booster-ish progressivity.

That does not quite describe the impact of the music, but it does comes close. There is a lyrical side that can especially be heard to good advantage on the "Piano Concerto", a rhythmic vitality apparent throughout, and thematic inventiveness.

The "Double Bass Concerto" is one of a very few out there, so it is especially welcome. There are soaring arco lines that make the bass sound as if it were a deep-ranged sibling of the cello, which of course makes sense. The music has a stately, measured quality in keeping with the regal personality of the solo part.

The "Piano Concerto" seems especially strong and original, with a good deal of forward moving energy and momentum, a busy thematic unwinding shared and dialogued between piano and orchestra.

The momentum continues in the "Clarinet Concerto", with some wonderful clarinet passages and a rustic dance quality in the first movement, a tender lyricism in the second and a stirring liveliness in the finale that once again suggests a country dance.

The orchestral duties are divided between the St. Petersberg State Symphony Orchestra, the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Warsaw National Philharmonic, all of whom give us quite respectable, lively readings. Kudos to the soloists are in order: Artim Chirkov on double bass, Marjorie Mitchell, piano, and the great Richard Stoltzman on clarinet.

All-in-all this is a fine recording. It will appeal especially to those who follow the American compositional modernist scene, who are open to a lesser-known yet worthy figure. It transcends those boundaries too, so that the music speaks across borders to anyone open to a middle-road modernism.

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