CD performances are music-making of the highest order

By Deseret News  Jul 22, 2007, 12:05am MDT

Edward Reichel

SONOLUMINAENSEMBLE: Dahl, Martinu, Husa (Sonolumina)****

The Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival has undergone several changes in name since it was founded 23 years ago by violist Leslie Harlow. But what hasn’t changed over the decades is the quality and integrity of the concerts, and the high artistic standards of the performers.

That has been the hallmark of this summer festival. Harlow, together with her husband and co-director, Utah Symphony associate principal clarinetist Russell Harlow, have always striven to bring their audiences concerts that present some of the most beloved chamber music works, along with pieces that have been neglected but most assuredly deserve to be performed — and played by musicians for whom chamber music is almost a religion.

At long last, a broader audience can experience what concertgoers to the mountain festival have enjoyed for so many years. The Harlows have finally released a CD of music that has been featured on their concerts, performed by festival favorites.

Collectively known as the Sonolumina Ensemble, the Harlows on this just-released album are joined by symphony clarinetist Lee Livengood, cellist Jesus Morales and violinist Dara Morales, the former principal second violinist with the Utah Symphony and now the assistant principal second with the Philadelphia Orchestra. They play works by Ingolf Dahl, Bohuslav Martinu and Karel Husa.

These five musicians’ ensemble playing is outstanding. They bring intelligence and a keen perceptiveness and deep insight to these works. In short, chamber just doesn’t get much better than what one hears on this CD. This is music-making of the highest order.

Dahl writes intelligent music in a sophisticated language that touches on neo-classicism but is more complex and dense, yet never devoid of clarity of expression. His Concerto a Tre for violin, cello and clarinet is a wonderful piece. It’s a demanding work but doesn’t drown in bravura writing. It’s very lyrical throughout.

Russell Harlow and husband-and-wife musicians Dara and Jesus Morales give a radiant performance. They capture the vibrancy of the music effortlessly. Their playing is very articulate in the fast outer sections and quite eloquent in the slow middle section of this one-movement work. It’s an appealing and entertaining reading that brings this delightful piece to life.

Martinu also writes in a sophisticated style that draws on many sources for its inspiration. His Serenade for Two Clarinets, Violin, Viola and Violoncello is filled with kinetic energy. There are hints of his Czech homeland in his melodies, but it’s not pervasive — it just underlies his universal musical language.

All five artists are united for this piece, and their account is quite simply fabulous. Their playing is dynamic, very fluid and wonderfully articulated. Quite compelling is the Andante movement and the slow introduction to the finale. The group captures the eloquence of the music in their poetic reading.

The final work on the album is Husa’s “Evocations de Slovaquie” for clarinet, viola and cello. Quite a vivid and colorful piece, the three movements that make up these “evocations” are intensely expressive and wonderfully fresh and dramatic. Russell and Leslie Harlow and Jesus Morales play with romantic fervor and give a compelling and forceful reading.

For a CD that gives a mesmerizing glimpse into the world of chamber music and into the works of composers that don’t receive the recognition today that they deserve, this album is certainly one that should be in any serious music lover’s collection.

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Review by Graham Williams – September 9, 2007

The three works presented here were recorded using the remarkable IsoMike system designed by Ray Kimber. These 4.0 channel recordings are remarkably vivid, but in a totally natural way that enables the listener to follow clearly the instrumental lines in these fairly esoteric offerings while still preserving the illusion of an integrated ensemble in a natural and believable acoustic.

The Concerto a Tre by Ingolf Dahl, written for the clarinettist Benny Goodman, is an amiable piece of neo-classicism in a single movement lasting 18.45, but it falls into a series of contrasting sections which just manages to prevent it out-staying its welcome. The writing clearly owes a debt to Stravinsky, in particular the Soldier’s Tale.

Martinu’s four-movement Serenade from 1951 is typical of his late style. The writing is fluent and energetic yet tinged at times with nostalgia for his Czech homeland. With a recording of this quality one can appreciate Martinu’s ensemble writing to the full. Although it is somewhat invidious to single out one player from the splendid Sonolumina Ensemble, I must mention the viola player Leslie Harlow whose contribution throughout and to the slow movement, in particular, is so memorable.

Karel Husa’s Evocations de Slovaque were also written in 1951 while the composer was living in Paris. The music has echoes of Bartok and Kodaly as well as Husa’s native Czech folk idiom. The three movements are entitled La Montagne, La Nuit and La Danse a vigorous piece that shows off Russell Harlow’s virtuoso clarinet playing to the full.

The accompanying booklet provides, brief background notes on the composers, biographies of the performers and information about how the IsoMike system works.

The recordings are transferred at a very high level, but when one has adjusted the volume settings carefully, the music emerges from an astonishingly silent background, while each instrument has a tonal realism that is almost unparalleled in my experience.

Copyright © 2007 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by John Broggio – October 11, 2007

Another triumph for the IsoMike system of Ray Kimber; oh, and the music making isn’t half-bad either!

The three works included here are all works of composers that fled the Nazi’s in the 1930’s to settle (at least temporarily in Martinu’s case) in the US. Martinu is the most widely recognised of the trio and the Serenade for two clarinets, violin, viola and cello may be unusual in the combination of the instruments chosen but the musical ideas are not atypical for late Martinu – very enjoyable indeed.

The works of Ingolf Dahl and Karel Husa will be less known to most but they are given very sympathetic and compelling performances by the Sonolumina Ensemble. Dahl’s Concerto a Tre (for violin, clarinet and cello) is a one movement, near 20 minute, neo-Classical composition that clearly owes a debt to similar style works of Stravinsky. Whilst not quite the equal of this master, there is no doubting the passionate response of the musicians here and also in Evocations de Slovaquie by Husa. This three movement work for clarinet, viola and cello has a darker timbre (very effective in La Nuit) which again receives the same dedicated and ardent response.

Perhaps though, the most interesting aspect for our site is arguably the most remarkable clarity and faithfulness to instrumental timbre that I have heard yet outside of a concert hall. The 4.0 recording is absolutely merciless in its revelatory detail and the silences really do sound “black”; the hall ambience is also miraculously presented and the walls of my listening environment disappear to be replaced by a very nice acoustic indeed. Fortunately, the playing of the Sonolumina Ensemble is fully deserving of such close scrutiny – I hope to hear more from them before too long.

Very highly recommended for both performance and sonic reasons.

Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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