Starry Night, a CD by composer/pianist/conductor David Robert Coleman
Naxos 9.70202, DDD, playing time 59:56, 2014


Available for digital download at Amazon (some tracks available for free for Prime members); click [here]

When I interviewed the conductor and composer in Berlin two summers ago, he promised to forward to me his music, and did. I should have reviewed this long ago and I'm still behind in terms of transcribing and publishing his interview, for which I apologize. I'm catching up, now. I already reviewed the Lulu DVD for which he re-orchestrated the third act (see the review under the Berg section) and I'm adding his CD now. The interview will follow.

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The first piece is Zwiegespräch: Etude for Solo Viola, 8:19 duration, from 2011, recorded at the Berlin Staatsoper Sound Department, played by Felix Schwartz. Like the name indicates, it's a dialogue. The one viola plays both voices: a more excitable, jumpy, pizzicato-rich line, followed by "answers" in a melancholic, slow line. It conceptually (not musically) reminds me of Cat Steven's "Father and Son" where a young person talks about rebellious themes while a parental figure tries to calm the youngster down. It is entertaining. I'm not sure if it's just my disc, but the track contains digital noise/defects.

The second one is Ibergang: Rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra, 22:52 duration, from 2012, recorded at Hassian Radio, performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer. Igor Begelman plays the clarinet. The title is a Yiddish alteration of the German word Übergang which means Transitions. It is based on a segment that has the style of Klezmer (a musical tradition of the Azkhenazi Jews consisting mostly of dance tunes) that recurs and is altered several times (thus the title Transitions). The clarinet is the main instrument here, and the comparison with Debussy is unavoidable. There is an oscillation between clarinet solos, chamber-like ensembles, and full orchestra, and the piece is very rich and satisfactory, with plenty of lawyers and colors; very playful at times (it's a smiling sort of clarinet solos), solemn at other times. It ends with a melodic, cantabile epilogue. I like it a lot. It is a treat for lovers of contemporary music. I'll return to this piece and listen to it again. Very nice!

The third piece is the more widely performed Starry Night for piano, piccolo and ensemble, duration 12:29, from 1999 (the track on this CD is from 2002), recorded at Kleiner Saal, Berlin Philarmonie, performed by members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer. Michael Wendeberg plays the piano. In addition to the piano and the piccolo, there are ten other instruments. It consists of chorale variations. The piano is generally in the low register, with a bright piccolo line that combines with harp, vibraphone, low strings and trombone. The piece is atonal and very fragmented and abrupt, making use of what is called ring modulation (an electronic effect involving the mixing of two frequencies, one of them being a sine wave; that's an effect that Stockhausen used to employ) conveying a feeling of anxiety and apprehension, like if someone is outside in nature at night and there are some menacing sounds. Again, lovers of contemporary music will enjoy the landscape here. Others, beware.

I quite like the shorter Fanfare and Palimpsest for trumpet and small ensemble, duration 4:16, 2009, recorded at the Berlin Staatsoper Sound Department, played by members of the Akademie Berliner Staatskapelle conducted by Julien Salemkour, with the trumpet being manned by Jonatham Bucka. Seven instruments are used, here. There is a multi-instrument fanfare that occupies the first two thirds of the piece, and then the trumpet jumps out and takes over, in a very compelling manner.

Finally, we get to the last work, Three Character Pieces for viola and piano, duration 12:38, 2012, recorded at the Berlin Staatsoper Sound Department, played by Julia Deyneka, viola, and Elizaveta Blumina, piano. There are three segments, Elegie, Scherzo, and Notturno Interrotto (which intends to convey a nightmare, with the dreamer awakening at the end). This is very beautiful and melodic. The Elegie (2:26) is made of legato lines that are nice and simple, with the piano and the viola sort of rolling over each other. The Scherzo (3:45) is bright and shiny, with the rhythm being marked by pizzicato playing from the viola at firsts, later evolving to bursts of fast bowed playing. The Notturno Interrotto (5:26) is quite spectacular. It opens with a longing, melancholic line for the viola, which then becomes richer and richer, with the piano solemnly punctuating it. The effect of dream-like narration is indeed evocative. The piano becomes harsher and the viola switches to pizzicato, then the last few seconds - supposedly the awakening - sees the viola produce a loud and sustained cry that ends abruptly. I love it!

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My favorite pieces were #2 and #5, but I very much enjoyed the entire CD. It is highly recommended for lovers of contemporary music.