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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Douglas Knehans, Edward Smaldone, Double Portrait


One follows a path in life ever. For those musical our path takes us through the music in our heads and the music made as part of the world we inhabit. I am glad as a music writer to be exposed to music I probably would not have otherwise come across, especially in today's world with the virtual holding sway. So I am happy to be able to report in on a Modern American chamber music set entitled Double Portrait  (Ablaze Records ar-00053 2-CDs). It devotes a CD each to the music of Douglas Knehans and Edward Smaldone, two composers whose music I have mentioned on these pages, two who complement one another as two highly inventive Modernists who gain clarity in this kind of musical gallery setting by being juxtaposed one to the other.

Each single-disk program  brings to us a vivid selection of works. The Douglas Knehans one begins straight off with a very dynamic and satisfyingly exciting "Bang" for sextet and electronics. It is music of movement, excellently segueing the electronics part with high organic instrumental colors of rather brilliant hue, wonderfully scored for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin and cello.

A haunting contrast follows with the stark and introspective "Temple" for solo flute. This all has High Modern eloquence, at an edge between tonality and the beyond with ultra-integrated syntax that has the logical sequentiality of the individually near inevitable.

"Lumen" for cello and piano continues the exploratory meditative mood of the work before. It reflects like golden light on a nighttime pond perhaps, showing something more by so doing than what might be otherwise there. The second movement reaches out in a concentric dialog that evinces thematic importance, a distinctive motility that makes beautiful aural sense of the instrumental pairing. The final movement returns to quietude and pondering, then a bit of determinational phraseology, of determined soundings.

The final "Falling Air" for sextet and Chinese sheng returns to a thicker texture, vibrantly outreaching in declamatory animation, then replacing it with longer tones in an open field. Knehans's wonderful way of casting ornate gestures and contrasting singing singleness in multitudes holds forth and stands out as a most fitting way to conclude.

The Smaldone disc opens with a very angular "Rituals: Sacred and Profane" for flute, cello and piano.

And then the violin calls forth to be later joined by infectiously dancing piano in a highly modern "Suite" that at times swings with a pretty mighty New Music arc.

The solo piano "Three Scenes from the Heartland" has a tonally advanced, somewhat jazzed rubato quality and alternately a pronounced rhythmic drive that is quite appealing.

The "Double Duo" of flute and clarinet and violin and cello proceeds in a very compelling set of interlocking twists and turns that makes an increasingly indelible impression on the musical memory.

So that makes up this lively and very musical Double Portrait. Each composer gives us state-of-the-art chamber modernisms that stand out and stay with you. The performances and recording quality are both very much excellent. This is music to savor, an irresistible set of works you will doubtless be glad to hear many times going forward. I know I will.

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