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David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

James Hartway belongs to that wealth of composers who mix and match tonality and atonality as it suits them and have primarily emerged from the United States during the second-half of the 20th century. Born in Detroit in 1944, Hartway studied at the Wayne State and Michigan State Universities leading to a career that has to date brought eighty-nine works, the majority of those written to commissions. The present disc includes a taste of his instrumental and chamber output, the Three Myths for Piano showing how quickly he can flit in and out of tonality to build a wholly satisfying movement. Imaginary Creatures, for soprano and string quartet, is less easily approached, the six movements using the same basic formula, though with a voice involved it is less easy to manipulate. Try track 6, Tranquility spider, to savour the work’s general content. Images of Mogador was written to a Moroccan commission in 2002 and featured in the festival of classical music that takes place in Essaouira each year. Scored for harp, flute and viola it is redolent with French Impressionist influences, its three movements purely tonal and highly attractive. The disc is completed by Scenes from a Marriage, a piece commissioned by a friend as a fortieth birthday present to his wife. To link the feeling of two in partnership, the work is played by four hands at one keyboard, and is intended to give instant pleasure, the final movement entitled ‘in fun’ obviously a quick survey of the wife’s favourite classical music. The tracks on the disc have been recorded at different locations over the past six years, but match one another without any ‘bumps’ as we change ambiance. The Woodland Trio’s Images is a particularly noteworthy performance; soprano, Pamala Schiffer, does find Imaginary Creatures a challenge, while the many other performers are all well attuned to Hartway’s many styles. Highly enjoyable.

Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press, December 2007

…At 63, however, Hartway’s reputation is getting a major boost. A CD of his music, “Imaginary Creatures,” was released this month in the high-profile American Classics series on Naxos, whose international distribution promises to elevate his visibility to the highest point in his career. The recognition is nice, says Hartway, but his fondest wish is simply that musicians who hear the CD might like the music enough to play it…“He’s not afraid to really reach out to listeners,” said Sean Hickey, a composition student of Hartway’s at Wayne State in the ’90s. “It’s not simple music in the same way that the populist ballets of Copland are not simple just because there’s a directness of appeal.”

Hickey, a native Detroiter who has his own CD out on Naxos, also works for the company as head of East Coast sales and marketing. He played a key role in bringing Hartway to the attention of the company’s maverick owner, Klaus Heymann, forwarding the disc that Hartway had recorded locally using Detroit musicians who have long championed his work. Hartway received no money from Naxos. Instead, the company covered manufacturing and distribution costs and gave the composer a large allotment of discs.

The American Classics series includes nearly 250 recordings, from seminal figures like Copland and Charles Ives to important contemporary voices like John Adams and William Bolcom and a gaggle of little-known composers, almost all of whom write in friendly styles as opposed to thornier or atonal idioms…

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