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Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, April 2008

The recorded quality of both the cello and piano is quite simply excellent. Music lovers and audiophiles realize that most living rooms or music rooms can accommodate both these instruments. So turn up the gain or volume control and enjoy the sound of your personal home concert featuring two of the most beautiful music instruments, the cello and piano.

…Lovers of the cello will treasure this release though not every one of the compositions will be found immediately appealing by all though most will be.

Bolcom is a prolific and well-respected contemporary composer; Naxos offers at least four other CDs featuring his compositions, most notably Songs of Innocence and of Experience, based on poems by William Blake, Naxos CD 8.559216-18.



Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, March 2008

Bolcom is not, thank goodness, an easy composer to pin down, stylistically speaking. And that is a good reason for always approaching a recording/performance of his work with eagerness, in anticipation of a few surprises and unexpected pleasures. It’s not just that he has – naturally enough – developed and changed over the years as a composer, but also that there isn’t a single trajectory to that development, any clear beginning or (at least tentative) ‘ending’; changes of direction and idiom occur between works - and are sometimes later reversed - and, at times, even within individual works.

Something of Bolcom’s exhilarating (at least I find it so) diversity is illustrated on this survey (billed as his ‘Complete Works for Cello’) of his writing for cello, part of the engaging ongoing series of Naxos discs devoted to his music.

Capriccio is in four movements. The first – allegro con spirito – is said by Bolcom himself to have affinities with Milhaud, which seems fair enough; the second – molto adagio espressivo – is a beautiful movement, some three and a half minutes in length, an elegiac reflection on pleasures lost; Bolcom describes the third movement as "rather-Brahmsian": it is full of beguiling melodies and an ambiguous sad charm; how very different the final movement is! This, the longest movement of this delightful piece, is entitled – in full – ‘Gingando (Brazilian Tango Tempo), ‘Tombeau de Ernesto Nazareth’. It’s a quite ravishing piece; ‘gingando’, I am told by Portuguese-speaking friends, implies a rather sexy kind of hip shaking on the dance floor; what one friend described as "joyful, sensuous waddling!" If that’s right, then this movement of Bolcom’s Capriccio seems to capture just that kind of joy and playful sensuality. Pizzicato passages for the cello are particularly delightful. I feel sure that Ernesto Nazareth would have valued this tribute. Taken whole, Capriccio is a work which perfectly illustrates Bolcom’s creative eclecticism.

Capriccio was premiered in 1988. More than twenty-five years earlier, Bolcom had been trying out a very different idiom. The single movement of Décalage shows a Bolcom responding to – and skilfully borrowing – some of the devices of then contemporary European music: Boulez is the name Bolcom mentions in his notes to this CD. But for all the apparent rigidities of the compositional methods involved - Bolcom himself now seems a little vague as to what exactly they were! - for all the brusqueness of much in the phrasing, there are tonal passages and a sense of instrumental dialogue that some of Bolcom’s models wouldn’t have allowed themselves. This is not, though, much more than an oddity of relatively little lasting interest. For once Bolcom doesn’t really seem to have found one of his adopted manners particularly fruitful.

Dark Music is not perhaps a major work either, but it is a striking one. It explores and articulates a mood of quiet despair; mostly played pianissimo, the unexpected instrumental combination of cello and timpani produces some very unusual and haunting textures, with microtones and glissandos often to the fore. It has an emotional substance – even if that emotion is a narrow and rather specialised one - Bolcom himself talks of it in terms of "emotional anomie and dissociation" – which gives it a dramatic, disturbing power absent from Décalage. Is there anything else by Bolcom quite like this?

Alongside Capriccio, the two most substantial works here are the Cello Sonata and the Cello Suite No.1; does Bolcom have more such works in mind? The Sonata pays more obvious homage to the ‘classical’ tradition than any of the other pieces gathered here, in its three movements (allegro-adagio-allegro) and some of its melodic and harmonic language. In the opening allegro there is, at times, a slight air of the over-cultivated, the excessively polite, that is perhaps ironic – a gentle, affectionate mockery of the Schubert-Brahms tradition out of which the Sonata ultimately grows or at least of its later derivatives; the central andante, though, is free of any suspicion of the ironic, built as it is of both a charming theme of serene gravity in E-major and some tense and quasi-tragic music. This is a rich, emotionally complex movement which, while it doesn’t - at least I don’t think so - explicitly imitate any ‘romantic’ models, finds a thoroughly twentieth-century way of tackling some of the same experiences and ideas. The closing movement is a relatively brief rondo, hectically passionate but perhaps not quite, in this performance at any rate, on a par with its two predecessors. Even so, this Sonata is a substantial, valuable and rewarding piece.

The Suite for solo cello is not, perhaps, quite so convincing, but is well worth hearing. Again Bolcom’s stylistic diversity is to the fore. The music began as incidental music for a 1995 production of Arthur Miller’s tragedy Broken Glass. The Bachian echoes and allusions in movements such as the ‘Alla sarabanda’ which closes the work and the brief ‘Badinerie’ which is at its centre, are perhaps no more than we should expect from Bolcom. As a whole the suite is perhaps too homogenous – too consistently dark in mood and low in register – to be entirely satisfactory. Given the comparison with Bark which the form – and some of the musical allusions – imply, any comparison is likely to leave one feeling that this suite is too short on, too far from, dance rhythms. But it has a genuine, if narrow, power.

Bolcom is never less than a composer of high competence and intelligence. At his best he is much more than that and, some at least, of the work on this disc shows him at something like his best. Given that, and given that both performances - Norman Fischer’s work is superb throughout - and recorded sound are of a high standard, admirers of Bolcom will surely want to snap up this disc.



Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, January 2008

The Naxos catalogue of titles representing the work of William Bolcom must surely now be the strongest available, and this disc presents all of the composer’s work for cello to date.

Taking them chronologically, Décalage, as the composer freely acknowledges, is heavily influenced by the music of Pierre Boulez. The work’s basis has that feeling of serial angularity, but you can sense Bolcom’s attraction to the natural sonority of the instruments, and some inevitable, chance-like moments of tonality are allowed through the web of notes as well. The piece retains an attraction through speech-like patterns from the cello, but does ‘date’ somewhat – very much a product of its time.

Dark Music follows, described as recalling ‘certain plays of Samuel Beckett, a world “of emotional anomie and dissociation.”’ Listeners will have their own associations to apply to this kind of piece, but the dry thudding of the timpani, at times commented on my pizzicato from the cello, the beats sometimes threaded together by glissandi, does conjure a fairly grim and desolate musical landscape.

The disc opens with Capriccio, the title only misleading if you interpret it as meaning a work light in content. The piece is constructed much in the way of a sonata, with four clear movements. The opening is a fairly short and lively Allegro con spirito, compared by the composer to one typical of Milhaud. The other composer indicated is Brahms, whose spirit lives to a certain extent in the elegiac second Molto adagio espressivo and the third Like a barcarolle. This third movement combines an atmospheric rhythmic movement with bitter-sweet harmonies from the piano and expressive melodic lines from both instruments. The final Gingando is a marvellously itchy tango dance, the title being a marking often used by Ernesto Nazareth, whose tangos were such that he was considered the father of Brazilian music by Heitor Villa-Lobos. This is a highly attractive piece, fully deserving its concert-hall and recorded popularity.

The Cello Sonata was written for Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax while at Aspen, once again recalling Brahms in certain aspects, but also making the combination with Schubert in terms of a structural model. The opening movement has a light feel, mixing serious musical statement with gentle parodies of a kind of salon style of music. The second Adagio semplice is the central movement for which the other two are very much orbiting satellites. The deceptively simple, almost lullaby-like opening soon develops into a tightly woven musical argument which contrasts with intervals of fervently agitated interruption and variation. The final movement is a compact rondo, a short ride on something bouncy: in this performance somehow eluding the Sturm und Drang the composer claims for it.

The most recent piece is the Cello Suite No.1 in C minor, whose title suggests the ‘complete’ title of this disc may be short-lived. This is a substantial work for cello solo, expanding on material the composer wrote for a stage production of Arthur Miller’s play Broken Glass. Norman Fischer recorded the stage score for these productions, and performed the première of the complete Suite at Tanglewood in 1996. There are some references to Bach in the Badinerie and Alla sarabanda titles of two of the movements, and the composer refers to the sombre mood of Bach’s C minor solo suite BWV 1011 in the nature of the music in his own Suite. One can imagine the effectiveness of such pieces in setting the mood of Miller’s play, and the lines and gestures of the piece seem by turns to have a narrative, or a somewhat objective, commentary role. As a piece of music it stands alone well enough but, Dark Music aside, the Suite is one of the most serious pieces in this programme, having more of a grey November feel than anything else.

I have no comparison recordings to hand when evaluating this disc, but have no hesitation in recommending it either in terms of recorded sound or performance. Norman Fischer is an excellent soloist with a lighter touch than some, avoiding the kind of passionate scrubbing and over-emphasis which can put one off entire programmes of cello music. Collectors and fans of William Bolcom’s oeuvre can rejoice in another bargain for the collection, and cellists in search of challenging new repertoire should also be making a bee-line for such an all-embracing recital.




Edward Reichel
Deseret News, December 2007

"William Bolcom writes music that is stylistically varied... This makes him a fascinating composer and an iconoclast in the best American tradition...Naxos' new release presents all of Bolcom's chamber works for cello, and this CD offers a wonderful overview of his creativity....This is music that is eminently listenable. The players give dynamic performances, especially cellist Norman Fischer. They capture all of the subtleties of these pieces with their wonderfully articulate and intelligent playing and perceptive interpretations."



David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2007

Do you go back far enough to have heard the young William Bolcom in the 1970’s recording piano rags by Scott Joplin and a few of his own composition in that mood? Well don’t expect such easy-going music when you arrive at the ‘serious’ scores on this new release. Born in Seattle in 1938, his mature studies took place in Paris with Milhaud and Messiaen, his return to the States marked by teaching posts at a number of top-ranking Universities. His compositions defy easy classification, as you will discover when Capriccio opens in atonality and, having passed through some easy listening lyric passages, eventually arrives at a fourth movement in a ‘pop’ style tango. That score comes from 1988, five years before the completion of the first Cello Suite, a piece that is easy to like with Bach, Shostakovich and Bloch hovering in the background. The early Decalage - using the word to mean displacement of time -  takes us deep into Bolcom’s atonal period which thankfully was brief. I didn’t have the luxury of playing Dark Music as requested ‘at the dead of night when all is still and with the lights turned off’, but I guess the piece for timpani and cello is quite spooky. The three movement Cello Sonata passes through moments of song-like beauty before remembering it is supposed to be a thrusting late 20th century creation. Norman Fischer has been long associated with Bolcom’s music having given a number of premieres together his pianist, Jeanne Kierman. Bolcom was apparently involved in the preparation of this disc, so that the performances must set the benchmark. Sound quality is very good.






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