The new Navona CD, "Continuum" is a showcase of modern orchestral works by composers who may not be familiar to most listeners. This is a largely very current and very "modern" sounding collection that is best approached by people already familiar with modern music or by those looking for something different. The best known "name" on the disc is Stephen Mosko, who just died in 2005 and was a fairly prominent figure in his native Denver as well as in the California EAR Unit of the SF Bay area. His work, "Transliminal Music", dates from 1992 and is an attention demanding, thorny work built on motivic figures that arrive in groups of 5, 6 and 7 and is mostly loud, violent and showcasing powerhouse brass in between some section of respite in the form of some eery winds and violin writing. It is important to note that this CD is "enhanced" to also play with iTunes (or similar) on a computer, wherein one can also read or download the program notes (instead of a paper booklet) The info provided on "Transliminal Music" is a bit sketchy, though, and not enough about the circumstances or reasons for the composition are present. (ie It is not clear what "transliminal" is meant to be..) However, it is a bracing, cerebral work and the Slovakian Radio Symphony under American new music specialist, Kirk Trevor,delivers a solid performance. Tim Sullivan is a promising, young Michigan native, where he studied with William Bolcom and Bright Sheng. The title of his work "Polychrome" is a reference to the composer's fascination with orchestral color. Plenty of good orchestral writing can be found and this piece resides in a type of "para-tonality" and even has some almost jazz-like passages. The composer describes a kind of "terror" that results from competing orchestral forces. Another way to describe the net effect is that there is an almost concerto for orchestra approach to the section writing. I think Sullivan is a strong writer and the performance by the Moravian Philharmonic and Vit Micka does not disappoint. "Fairy Tale" by Daniel Crozier, performed by Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony, may be the most accessible and "crowd pleaser" piece on this disc. "Fairy Tale" (2002) is a largely tonal and very beautiful piece. Crozier who is a professor at Rollins College and a graduate of the Peabody Institute, describes the effect as a kind of narrative without story or in Mendelssohn's words, "opera without words". There is indeed a parable sound to the score. It suggests ballet or film but without any particular libretto, text or book behind the music; a very attractive work. The last work on this fascinating collection is "TransActions" by Michigan native Michael G. Cunningham, who has actually served as a university based professor and composer for over forty years. Cunningham explains that the title refers to musical lines, gestures and actions that create "counter reactions on other levels". This music is also steeped in a very propulsive, loud, active sound world with some quite distinctive tonal combinations. The "transactions" end abruptly as the ending of the piece sounds a bit cut off. The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Odidiu Marinsecu performs quite well. For me, the Crozier and Sullivan works left the strongest impression and, I suspect, that the Stephen Mosko work would be the toughest listen for people not accustomed to contemporary work. Each piece does serve as a good introduction to the music of these composers whose work is also carried by Navona, a New England label, dedicated to promoting and preserving new music.
Submitted on 12/07/10 by Dan Coombs