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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Douglas Knehans, Unfinished Earth, Gareth Davies, Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, Mikel Toms

Often formally akin to Stravinsky's "Rite" and perhaps certain Ruggles works, in the best Modernist tradition of thickly and boldly underscored orchestral dissonance with a powerful series of gestures, we have Douglas Knehans' two-work CD Unfinished Earth (ablaze Records  00036). It is a very dramatic program, nicely performed. It gives us a catbird's seat on Knehans' pronounced orchestral flair.

The Brno Philharmonic under Mikel Toms take matters in hand for an ideally dynamic and dexterous tensile-strong presence throughout.

The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, "Tempest," sports a very mercurial and sound-colorful flute performance by Gareth Davies. The solo part has wonderful presence and drive--and sets off an orchestral score that expresses alternately tenderness and power. The music embodies according to the liners the presence of wind as it courses through our planet. Indeed that seems apt.

The title work "Unfinished Earth" has a rhythmic insistency and a brashly dissonant demeanor that carves out a sound universe unique to Knehans yet paradigmatically High Modernist, with a level of expressive feeling that might be identified partly as Romantic but not backward leaning so much as chasm spanning. As the earth slowly evolves so does our life, the liners assert. And perhaps no more so than now do we feel the constancy of change and the need to take on fresh challenges and survive with a dignity and consistency that rises to whatever comes. 

The three movements exude alternately strength and mystery as does our earth. It is an extraordinary work.

The press sheet that came with the CD asserts that the music is influenced by Lutoslawski, Stravinsky and Mahler. I find that quite interesting and have no reason to contest it. Those influences are fully synthesized and internalized into a special whole, however.  On the basis of this program I am happy to count Knehans among the most accomplished and original orchestral composers of our time. I recommend this most heartily. It belongs in anyone's collection who follows the newest of the new. Bravo, bravo.

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