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Fanfare, March 2006

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Victor Carr Jr
ClassicsToday.com, December 2005

"Artistic Quality 10 / Sound Quality 9

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's 1998 Violin Concerto is a marvelous work that communicates immediately to the heart, yet at the same time stimulates the intellect. It begins with an excited shimmer in the orchestra's high register, introducing the violin's arching, wide-interval theme. The serene, ecstatic character of the violin writing is reminiscent of Szymanowski, though throughout the score there also are hints of Prokofiev and Bartók. That said, this is undeniably Zwilich's music, and the fact that this work is a product of our neo-romantic, post-minimalist era is evident in the two shattering orchestral crescendos that frame the first movement. The second movement is based on Bach's Chaconne in D minor, here expanded and augmented by modern harmonies and jazzy ornamentations. Jazz also figures strongly in the finale where, like Bernstein before her, Zwilich seamlessly incorporates its stylistic elements into the orchestral fabric. None of this poses any problem for Pamela Frank, who gives a masterful and passionate performance of the entire work, handsomely accompanied by Michael Stern and the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Rituals (2002) is a celebration of percussion as used in various world cultures, and is so different a work from the violin concerto that it hardly sounds from the pen of the same composer. Nevertheless, it's a total delight, from the opening Invocations, with its stunning pageantry of bells, gongs, and cymbals, to the dancing Ambulation, to the electrifying Contests, where groups of percussionists engage in a thrilling musical combat, set against an orchestral backdrop of increasingly alarming freight-train chords. Under Michael Stern's leadership, NEXUS/IRIS Chamber Orchestra members play magnificently as they build to a frenzied, exhilarating conclusion. Naxos' recording reproduces all of this with satisfying presence and impact, although the Concerto, which was taped live for broadcast, has noticeably less warmth and depth. The bottom line: This is one highly enjoyable disc, enthusiastically recommended!."



Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, November 2005

"The violin concerto has had a great run as a genre over the last century. Ms. Zwilich's first try at the form lives up to the high standards of her predecessors. It's stormily dramatic, but with high-lying lyrical solos that have real substance. Pamela Frank is among those formidable players who have taken refuge at Naxos after losing a major-label contract. The concerto's difficulties don't faze her, and she plays the lyrical episodes meltingly."



Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, November 2005

The violin concerto has had a great run as a genre over the last century. Ms. Zwilich's first try at the form lives up to the high standards of her predecessors. It's stormily dramatic, but with high-lying lyrical solos that have real substance. Pamela Frank is among those formidable players who have taken refuge at Naxos after losing a major-label contract. The concerto's difficulties don't faze her, and she plays the lyrical episodes meltingly.



Christopher Blank
Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 2005

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: "Rituals" performed by Nexus and the IRIS Chamber Orchestra (Naxos, 8.559268)

In March 2004, the IRIS Chamber Orchestra of Germantown commissioned the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ellen Taaffe Zwilich to compose a new work featuring the Canadian percussion ensemble Nexus.

"Shellshocking" was one word that described the experience of hearing five percussionists clashing and banging on a tremendous variety of exotic instruments while conductor Michael Stern and his orchestra provided accompaniment.

Zwilich's exotic "Rituals" is not an easily digested work, but absolutely worth a second listen in this beautifully mastered new Naxos release.

Its pairing with the composer's Violin Concerto, featuring soloist Pamela Frank and performed by the Saarbruecken Radio Symphony Orchestra (also conducted by Stern), shows Zwilich putting her stamp on two different styles of music.

The concerto is romantic in nature, laden with strings and light winds. The stunning second movement finds the soloist moving soulfully, desperately through a darkening tonal environment.

It contrasts distinctly with the modernist "Rituals," where the rhythmic spectrum runs the gamut from trance-inducing to thrillingly aggressive.

If the pieces share a common thread, it is the sustained build-ups of tension that leave the listener longing for release.

This is especially true with "Rituals." The opening movement, "Invocation," begins with six gong-like tolls that introduce a slow, gradual crescendo. A minute and 38 seconds later, you wonder if your stereo is going to explode. But Zwilich plunges suddenly into silence and offers a mystical soundscape.

The percussive palette is extraordinary; "Rituals" creates a parade of exotic imagery inspired by the Japanese finger bells and temple bowls, gongs from Thailand, drums from Africa and much more. The second movement, "Ambulation," picks up speed and rhythmic diversity. Nexus, the only ensemble in the world prepared to handle this piece, dances sharply on top of the orchestra's quickly changing musical surface.

The third and most introspective movement, "Remembrances," is dark, meditative and trancelike with long, repeated notes in the violins lightly dotted by chimes, cymbals, gongs and bells.

The piece concludes with "Contests" a raucous, warlike drum battle with repeated crescendos introducing each drum flourish.

IRIS's recording engineer Jamey Lamar has done a fine job finding the mid-range for all the highs and lows in this roller-coaster of rhythm. Slightly tempered by the mix, "Rituals" remains an adventurous composition for adventurous listeners.



Frank Oteri

"As Garry Kvistad, one of the members of the percussion quintet Nexus, reminded me at the release party for this new Ellen Taaffe Zwilich disc on Naxos, there is no such thing as a percussion instrument with an indeterminate pitch. Every instrument has a pitch, but most composers who write for percussion ignore this and accept whatever the pitch of the percussion instrument used in a performance happens to be. Not so, says Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who worked meticulously with Nexus's extensive instrumentarium of percussion instruments from around the world. But none of these instruments are used for effect or to conjure some sort of tourist exoticism. Rather, Zwilich emphasized the pitch capabilities of a family of instruments not usually treated as melodic and created a piece where every resulting pitch is carefully worked out. The result is one of the most melodious and harmonious of percussion concertos and one of Zwilich's most exciting compositions to date. I was thrilled that this remarkable piece, which is also very exciting to watch, was part of NewMusicBox's first-ever Webcast of an orchestral concert a little over a year ago, but I'm even more thrilled that it's finally available on CD. Now if only I could hear it live. Wherever you are, demand that your local orchestra programs this blockbuster piece!"






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10:10:46 PM, 29 July 2014
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