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Walter Simmons
Fanfare, November 2006

An all-Moravec CD appeared on my Want List last year. This recent Naxos release of music by the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner is perhaps even more rewarding, as the 42-minute Time Gallery is an extra-ordinary work—one of the composer’s best, as far as I know. Moravec manages the rate feat of writing music that sounds up-to-date and individual, but is also pleasingly accessible. I suspect that he will prove to be one of the most important American composers of his generation.

Zachary Lewis
MUSO, July 2006

Inspired by an exhibit of historic clocks, Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Moravec composed The Time Gallery, a long but action-packed rumination on the nature and power of time.

Chamber sextet Eighth Blackbird premiered the piece in New York in 2001 and performs it again here with stunning assurance. Three of the work's four movements open with chiming bells, allusions to the monastic hours, and the Bach theme is also a frequent one.

Time Machine, the second movement, successfully depicts a range of time-marking machines while The Pulse: The Feelings of What Happens, the third movement, begins with the sound of a beating heart and goes on to convey the act of breathing through rushing scale and arpeggio figures.

Though profound in concept and complex technically, Time Gallery makes for surprisingly easy listening, especially in the electrifying hands of Eighth Blackbird. Moreover, Moravec writes with a keen ear for variety of texture, mood, rhythm and percussive color, rarely dwelling on one idea for long as he alternates between music of feisty skittishness and rigid rhythms and lumbering, atmospheric transparency.

Protean Fantasy, a rollicking set of theme-and-variations for violin and piano, places incredible demands on its performers and fills out the disc with music of ceaseless churning and only momentary calm.

David Blomenberg
MusicWeb International, July 2006

Time Gallery could essentially be called a chamber symphony. The movements are cyclical in their constant repetition of phrases, especially in the second movement. The piece appears to be a representation of the development of the clock, from canonical bells to mechanization, to the atomic clock, to time perceived in retrospect. The first movement goes off with the startlement of a clock that has lost a spring, with whirrings and bells, then settles in to the overall sound and feel of a traditional chamber piece. The somewhat exotic scoring of the piece makes itself evident — those are cowbells halfway through that meditative section — as one listens to the piece.

The second movement has four named sections, beginning with a confusion of clocks that breaks into a scherzo-like piece that busies itself with its fast tempo before moving on to the next with an uneasy descending chromatic motif. What follows is a rather fast section that culminates in a constantly-repeating figure that gradually falls apart into dissonance and disorganization. After a blow to the drum, we are back to the familiar motif heard earlier. The third movement, entitled Pulse: the feeling that happens, is another fast-paced scherzo-like movement. The fourth movement (Overtime: Memory Sings) again begins with a clocklike introduction. Chimes fade in, then the rasping deep ticking of a clock that multiplies over the beating of a heart. This is a movement of quiet tension that the string parts build on while the piano maintains an insistent tone in the left hand to carry the time motif. The composer, in his notes that accompany this recording, states that this movement calls up the “imagination of an ideal mind remembering the previous movements, reinventing the past”. It has the meditativeness of the first movement and is rather melancholic and wistful. As the parts fade, what is left is a pianissimo held A, on which the piece ends.

The Protean Fantasy of 1993, scored for violin and piano, begins with a bright exclamation before moving into a lyrical segment that forms the basis for the variations that follow. The immediate variation is a new side to the theme entirely, presented as a scherzo with the violin intoning the theme over the manic piano. An affecting and excitingly interesting piece.

The Ariel Fantasy is a perpetuum mobile scherzo, which Moravec mentions is the prototype of the Tempest Fantasy’s first movement, which is available on Arabesque Records (Z6791). All of the pieces here presented are exceedingly well recorded with, especially at the beginning, - and perhaps this is with intent - the percussion a bit too far forward. Naxos again remains highly consistent with its well-produced recordings of new and unfamiliar repertoire. Well-recorded, well-performed, this is an interesting and engaging program.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, July 2006

Something which really, really annoys me is shops which put big notices ‘SALE’, or ‘SPECIAL OFFER’, and when you look, it’s just budget price CDs being sold at their standard price. Nobody is fooled by this; it just switches me off from looking for new gems from the likes of Naxos. Having said that, I’m not sure I would have picked Paul Moravec out as being on my ‘must have’ list, which, clattering through the jewel cases at sprint speed as usual, would have been a big loss.

Moravec is essentially a romantic composer – by which I do not mean that his work is dripping with sentimentality, more that his language is intuitive, unafraid of the past, and programmatic rather than polluted with artificial intellectualism. Having won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music and with a substantial catalogue to his name already, his future as a composer of substance would seem to be assured.

The Time Gallery is chamber music on an impressive scale. In four movements, the first, Bells, describes a day marked out by the chimes of medieval Benedictine monasteries. Atmospheric meditation develops through some interesting counterpoint over a ground bass toward more rhapsodic writing. There is considerable virtuosity asked of the musicians, with instrumental filigrees winding around sometimes chorale-like harmonic movement which made a few other composers names pop into my mind – only momentarily, but there are one or two Nyman or Adams-esque progressions, and later on in the piece there is a distinctly Frank Martin feel to some of the resolutions. The music is in no way derivative, but if you like these kinds of tonal idiom, then the chances are you will love this to bits. The second movement, Time Machine, starts predictably with ticking clocks, but the music is dramatic – pulse driven, but with shifting accents and constantly mobile mini-ostinati which are in reality melodic fragments pushing the while thing along at pace. The movement describes the development of clocks and temporal philosophy through time, including a B.A.C.H. reference which rolls gently along underneath the Pendulum second section of the movement. eighth blackbird’s six performers prove themselves equal to the muscular demands of this music at every turn, and the playing is first rate.

The hoorspel theatricalfeel of each movement’s opening is continued with an actual heartbeat at the beginning of Pulse: The Feeling of What Happens. Some Martinuesque piano writing pops out in this punchily rhythmic movement. The fourth and final movement is called Overtime: Memory Sings, and here the principal themes return and are summed up. There are some almost Ivesean moments in this ‘meta-temporal imagination of an ideal mind remembering the previous movements’, but this is well though-through and beautifully crafted music. The apotheosis is Copland, Martinu, Martin, all rolled into a mix which takes on its own character. I can hear Peter Sallis’s voice calling in from the next room; ‘cracking CD, Gromit!’

The ‘fillers’ are also repertoire-busting additions to the catalogue. Protean Fantasy opens with a lyrical phrase, which is treated in a set of variations. Moravec’s energetic style is well represented both here and in Ariel Fantasy, which is the prototype for the first movement of his prize winning Tempest Fantasy. These are pieces which I am sure will soon be cropping up regularly on more adventurous concert and exam programmes in years to come.

So, with superb playing, an excellent recording and some inspirational new music I suggest, dear reader, you unearth your bus pass or your bicycle clips and head for the nearest classical CD outlet. You might mention to the shopkeeper that the admittedly low price is in fact FULL price for that label, and not a ‘Special Offer’, and then compliment him on his foresight at stocking such an excellent release.

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, July 2006

Paul Moravec is a prolific American composer with more than eighty works to his credit. He was the winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in music for his five-movement TempestFantasy for violin and piano. His music is a combination of the earnest and the entertaining, never taking itself too terribly seriously, but at the same time reflecting the thoughts of a thoroughly skilled and technically virtuosic composer.

The Time Gallery is a work for chamber ensemble that takes four aspects of the concept of time into view. Its opening movement, Bells, Devotional Hours, recalls the eight portions of the monastic day. Opening with random percussion sounds meant to represent a water alarm clock, it moves into the ringing of the bells that called the monks to prayer at the appropriate times of the day in the medieval age. The music is at times contemplative, at others quite energetic, and at all times inventive, tuneful, rhythmically vital and attractive.

The second movement, Time Machine, is much more lyrical and seeks to portray the advent and development of time-keeping devices through music. Opening with a montage of ticking clocks, there are some splendid melodies here and the lovely duet between the violin and clarinet is quite captivating. Of significant interest too is Moravec’s extremely skilful use of percussion instruments, not only as rhythmic devices, but as creative means to melody and color as well.

The third movement, Pulse, is the shortest of the four, depicting the ultimate time machine, the human heart. The contrasts between a steady even pulse and an arrhythmic nervous heartbeat are striking and at times a bit unsettling.

The final movement, Overtime: Memory Sings, is a poetic and atmospheric reflection on what the composer calls the paradox of time, that is, that time is the creator and destroyer of all things. It is by far the most beautiful of all four sections of this captivating score. Atmospheric to the core, it is at times rich in tonal harmony, and at others dreamy and non-committal in its rhythmic and harmonic structure.

eighth blackbird (intentionally lower case) is one of the finest chamber groups that I have ever encountered. Their dedication and passion for this music is wholly evident in this performance. A group with virtuoso skills to burn, they make the intricacies of this music seem like child’s-play. They show no effort at all as they make their way through some very difficult passage work with complete panache. In moments lyrical, they play with passion, yea even some real romanticism. Poetic is perhaps the way I could best describe their interpretations. Completely at one, this is a group that seems on this my first hearing to have achieved the perfect blend of skill and commitment, with an ideal mix of temperament and personality to add luster to an already shining collaboration.

The disc is rounded out with two brief but equally fine works for violin and piano, very skillfully played by Peter Sheppard-Skærved and Aaron Shorr. The writing style here is reminiscent of Prokofiev, with somewhat disjunct melodies for the violin and accompanied by percussive piano writing. Both instrumental parts indulge in the extremities of range and dynamics, making for interesting listening.

I have not heard new chamber music this fine since my first encounter with Peter Schickele’s wonderful quartet for clarinet, violin, piano and cello, now about twenty years old. Original and masterfully constructed, this music did what all good music should: enticed me to seek out more of this composer’s work.

Recommended without a moment’s hesitation. A real find!

S.G.S., June 2006

A lot of notes moving very fast. Paul Moravec, an up-and-comer on the fast track, won the 2004 Pulitzer for music. These three chamber works give you some idea why.

Moravec writes in a neo-Romantic idiom, but without nineteenth-century pastiche. Like Barber, he allows modern dissonance, but the phrasing and melodic shapes wouldn't have shocked Brahms. He puts together his music very well -- one remarks on a high degree of finish -- and he aims high. However, one must look beyond craft to explain the power of these works. Moravec wants to move you and relies heavily on nineteenth-century rhetoric to do so.

I just wish I liked these pieces more. While I can acknowledge their craft, their skill, and their expressive component, nothing really grabs me. Moravec doesn't surprise me or convince me that others couldn't produce roughly the same result. Barber, for example, gives me genius themes and brilliant, quirky counterpoint. On the other hand, there's nothing here other than a generic vibe and too many empty listening calories. Moravec and I operate on two different wave-lengths. For me, Daniel Kellogg, with much the same idiom, does more. But none of us can like everything. Your mileage, as they say, will probably vary.

Nevertheless, my reservations definitely do not extend to the performers. If not already, Eighth Blackbird deserves to be treated like a rock star. I rarely encounter contemporary specialists who play with such passion, understanding, and knock-out musicianship. The Time Gallery challenges any group to simply get through it. Eighth Blackbird gives a reading of nuance and detail, one that normally requires years of acquaintance with a complex work. Sheppard-Skaerved and Shorr, not quite at that level, nevertheless tear through the fantasies in an irresistible sweep. Their problem lies with the works themselves, too similar to avoid one blurring into the next. The fantasies (Moravec won the Pulitzer for the Tempest Fantasy, a later version of the Ariel) come across as the same kind of piece, which reinforces the image of the composer as a narrow talent.

But don't take my word for it. Listen for yourself. You may well arrive at a different conclusion. Naxos makes the price for experimenting a little easier to bear.

Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, April 2006

American composer Paul Moravec, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his vivacious and evocative "Tempest Fantasy," has been enjoying a surge of attention. He writes music that is tuneful, ebullient and wonderfully energetic, with a rich, burbly surface overlaid on a darker and more contemplative foundation. "The Time Gallery," an extended sextet performed with pizzazz and tenderness by the formidable new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird, offers four movements tuned to various time-keepers -- church bells, clocks, a pulse -- that then pursue an invigorating course. At nearly 45 minutes, the piece is long-winded, but the rhetoric is so ingratiating and the melodic invention so fertile that it's hard to complain. Completing the disc are two alluring fantasy duets, splendidly played by violinist Peter Sheppard-Skaerved and pianist Aaron Shorr. -- Joshua Kosman

Frank Behrens
Brattleboro Reformer, April 2006

Three very interesting CDs have just been issued and I want to give a brief report on each.

From the Naxos mini-series of Brahms’ “Four Hand Piano Music,” there is now in Volume 15 the 2-piano versions of “Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4” played by Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Kohn. I love piano reductions of symphonic works, mainly because I can better appreciate the inner workings of the themes. Of course, they never replace the fully orchestrated originals; but with playing such as is heard on this disc, I will hear these very often.

From the Naxos American Classics series, there is a little subseries, American Jewish Music from the Milken Archive. The latest addition is “The Art of Yiddish Song,” which celebrates the Yiddish art songs of Lazar Weiner (1897-1982). Here are 32 selections ranging from 45 seconds to 4.5 minutes, sung by such artists as Raphael Frieder, Ida Rae Cahana, Meir Finkelstein, Robert Abelson and David Ossenfort, among others. Some heartbreaking, all lovely, these songs provide fascinating insight into how this people’s experience in America reflects all of their history. Complete texts and translations are provided.

On the CPO label are three works by Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838). They are his “Clarinet Trio, op. 28,” “Clarinet Sonata, op. 29,” and “Clarinet Sonata, op 169.” Though not quite masterpieces, they are excellent examples of how this relatively new instrument caught the imagination of composers in the time of Mozart and are very well performed here by Dieter Kloecker (clarinet), Armin Fromm (violoncello) and Thomas Duis (piano). Lovely pieces by an unfamiliar composer.

Victor Carr Jr., April 2006

Paul Moravec's The Time Gallery, scored for violin, piano, cello, flute, clarinet, and percussion, explores various aspects of time--or more accurately, our relationship to it through the use of various time-keeping devices. The first movement, Bells: The Devotional Hours, begins in a ringing panoply that easily could find a home in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Multi-layered clock ticking introduces the following Time Machine, while a human heart sets the meter for the mercurial Pulse movement. The finale, Overtime: Memory Sings, superimposes chimes over ticking clocks, setting the stage for the mysterious and meditative music to come. This and the first movement form the slow bookends to the piece, while the inner movements feature a bracing energy and rhythmic vitality similar to that found in Shchedrin's Carmen Ballet. Moravec's own musical language is generally tonal--and although it's not consistently melodic, it's always accessible. More than that, it's highly engrossing, especially in this stimulating performance by the ensemble Eighth Blackbird.

Protean Fantasy and Ariel Fantasy present opposite poles of motion: serenely relaxed in the former and nervously swift in the latter. Whatever the pace, both works require imagination and impeccable musicianship, qualities that violinist Paul Sheppard-Skaerved and pianist Aaron Shorr provide aplenty. Naxos' recording captures it all in clear, vivid sound. Now this is a disc of new music most anyone can enjoy.

Robert Carl

I continue to enjoy the music of Paul Moravec (b. 1957), a younger composer of a conservative bent who's enjoyed an enviable success recently. Even though his language and stylistic stance isn't closest to my heart, I feel his recognition is well deserved, in fact more than some of the composers with whom he's often categorized as new romantic/tonalist. The reason is pretty simple: Moravec's music strikes me as extremely sophisticated in its workings, but not calculated in its effect. I think he feels he must investigate his materials to their greatest depth with the tools of the standard Western tradition, but that investigation must truly be "in depth." There's none of the sense of pandering to or placating of audiences that passes for a lot of "accessible" new music nowadays. In fact, Moravec's music, despite an ingratiating surface, is extremely dense, as The Time Gallery (2002) in particular demonstrates.

That work is the centerpiece of this disc. It's a "meditation" on the nature of time, written after a visit to the eponymous exhibit at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, which shows a history of time­keeping and its tools over the centuries (I've been there too, and yes, it's fascinating). Moravec creates in each of his movements a type of "flow" which suggests the different human approaches to time. The first movement, "Bells: Devotional Hours," is inspired by the divisions of the day that structured medieval life. The second, "Time Machine," is an evocation of the Newtonian clockwork envisaged by the Enlightenment. The third, "Pulse: The Feeling of What Happens," is based on the rhythms of the human heartbeat, and the fourth, "Overtime: Memory Sings," is a blend of the three previous, where the human consciousness creates a new model of time that transcends mere "chronocicity" (my neologism).

The whole piece lasts about 45 minutes, and each movement is introduced by a concrete sound pastiche (such as the ticking clocks of the second or the heartbeat of the third) that sets the stage for the musical interpretation that follows. Several things leap out of this music. First, it is brilliantly orchestrated: Moravec knows how to combine just six instruments (this is the standard "Pierrot" sextet so beloved of contemporary composers) into sonorities that suggest something far more orches­tral. He also knows how to make a wickedly witty sound, such as the jaunty little figure in glocken­spiel and piccolo in the first movement. (For the record, the superb Eighth Blackbird consists of Molly Alicia Barth, flutes; Michael L. Maccaferri, clarinets; Matt Albert, violin; Nicholas Photinos, cello; Matthew Duvall, percussion; and Lisa Kaplan, piano.) Second, he has the courage to follow an idea over a long span and investigate it in depth. This is particularly the case in the second movement, which divides into four sections and moves from an exhilarating scherzo to a more languid interlude inspired by pendular motion, to a breakneck ostinato that repeats a figure into obsession, which then necessarily melts down under the heat in the fourth.

Finally, the composer is eager to tackle big ideas in his music. He is obviously searching for an artistic result that not only pleases and projects beauty, but stimulates thought and questioning. I don't feel that Moravec's more conservative approach is meant to coddle the listener or sustain a status quo.

Do I have criticisms? Well, yes. At times, the music can still go into too much of a Hollywood sound, a sort of lush, heart-on-sleeve Romanticism that I feel actually detracts from the virtues of the work. Likewise, the sound collages at the start of each movement, while fascinating, could frankly be made more integral to the music. As sonic epigrams, they work, but I'd love to hear them woven more into the fabric of the piece, which I think would push it to even greater discoveries.

Finally, the work strangely doesn't have a real slow movement. This is more of an observation than a criticism. (Since I've been relistening recently to the Beethoven cello sonatas, which mostly share this quality, one can say Moravec has a good precedent.) The third movement would seem to be the logical place for such a breather, but it in fact becomes a sprightly romp after a soft beginning of the heartbeats. The final movement has an elegiac cast, but it, too, pushes to extremes of intensity. The upshot is that the music is restless, questing, and driven. So long as one accepts that early on, there's no problem, but just be prepared for a different sort of ride over its span than you might expect from its surface language.

The other two short pieces, both for violin and piano, are similarly breathless, but this seems appropriate to their stance as character pieces. Protean Fantasy (1993) is aptly titled, as it races through its course with seemingly limitless energy. And the 2002 Ariel Fantasy is a prototype of the succeeding Tempest Fantasy for mixed quartet, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music, and which I've already reviewed in Fanfare.

Okay, I've gone through my balance sheet, which remains very much on the positive side. All is superbly performed, and the sound is clear and full. Moravec is a composer of substance, integrity, and imagination, and I continue to look forward to upcoming works.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group