AARON JAY KERNIS (b.1960): Dreamsongs for Cello and Orchestra, Viola Concerto, Concerto with Echoes for Piano and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 02T067
Description: Three concertos in Kernis' familiar brand of eclectic, non-threatening post-modernism, thoroughly grounded in tonality with elements of late romanticism, impressionism, jazz (as viewed by early 20th century composers) and modern trends like minimalism. Dreamsongs is a cello concerto in two episodic movements and contrasting overall character. The first extends and varies the opening material in increasingly impassioned Romantic vein, one minute obliquely reminiscent of Berg, the next of Elgar; the surging climax briefly suggests Sibelius. The second movement, Kora Song, is inspired by an African plucked instrument, imitated by the cello and harp in material that recurs throughout the movement, which includes an unusual emphasis on pizzicato playing for the soloist. The music has a graceful, lively, folk-inflected feel, with percussion (including a djembe drum) add propulsion to fast passages. The Viola Concerto is more consistently neo-romantic in style, with Berg and pre-atonal Schoenberg very much to the fore in terms of influences. The first movement, which elaborates its open material, and the second, a Romance, are fairly conventional, but the much larger third is more complex both emotionally and musically. It takes its material from a Yiddish song, which is presented in discordant, fragmented for at the beginning and gradually resolves into a moving complete statement at the end, and a short fughetta by Schumann which follows the opposite trajectory, finally being demolished by a battering percussion onslaught, after which the work subsides into the shocked reverberations of a quasi-minimalist coda. The Concerto with Echoes is a contemporary response to the Brandenburg concertos. It also refers to other works of Bach and other composers' tributes to him in a lively string toccata, a Romantic passacaglia in early Schoenberg harmonies, and a courtly Aria as an unexpectedly undemonstrative finale. Joshua Roman (cello), Paul Neubauer (viola), Aaron Jay Kernis (piano), Royal Northern Sinfonia; Rebecca Miller.