Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, January 2010

Here is a challenge, indeed. How to describe this wonderfully inventive, often joyful, occasionally melancholy, highly rhythmic, frequently irreverent, absolutely eclectic, and always high-octane music? Read the titles. Check the instrumentation. No tuxes and evening dresses here, folks. This is “classical” music for those who revel in the ingenious and the uncommon. Eric Moe is professor of composition and theory at the University of Pittsburgh. He codirects a new-music series called Music on the Edge. Another CD of his works is called “Kicking and Screaming.” Indeed. There is something almost graphic novel about these works: serious aims with pop means, and a quirky sense of humor. I bet his composition classes are a hoot—unless perhaps one is incompetent. That steely gaze and shaved head in the booklet photo suggest a no-nonsense drill sergeant more than a long-suffering professor. Or maybe not. He is smiling winningly on the Web site.

Speaking of which, here is what he says there about his music: “Eric Moe’s music has been variously described as ‘maximal minimalism,’ ‘Rachmaninoff in hell,’ and ‘music of winning exuberance.’ The New York Times says [sic] recently that Moe ‘subversively inscribe[s] classical music into pop culture.’” Although the surfaces and genres are varied, his works share a concern for rhythmic propulsion and a disregard for stylistic orthodoxies. Sometimes tonal, sometimes not, harmony (generally crunchy) and melody (often angular) play privileged roles in his work.” That gives one some idea.

This is music without boundaries. Strange Exclaiming Music starts out sounding like a Bach unaccompanied violin sonata, but before long it has become demented swing, wistfully romantic, edgily Bartókian; it takes off like a Nancarrow piano roll, adds a touch of Stravinsky, slips into a elegiac reverie, and fades away without ever really resolving. And that is just the first movement. This sounds patchwork, but it is not. The work is completely organic. Transitions are entirely unforced, the moods and styles somehow complementary. The last movement, “Sorbet of Regret,” is as lovely a movement for violin and piano as one can imagine, with decidedly modern harmonic wanderings, but an unabashedly nostalgic essence.

The other works are as varied as the composer’s many influences. Teeth of the Sea (the translation of the Italian title for the movie Jaws) is a three-and-one-half minute tone poem for congas. Rough Winds Do Shake the Darling Buds revels in the wide expressive abilities of the saxophone, the gale and the endangered blossoms both deftly characterized. And down the stream, merrily bubbles exuberantly on two marimbas. I Have Only One Itching Desire starts with a drum lick from a Jimi Hendix song and freely develops in the style of African drumming, with a little jazz and rock thrown in. Flex Time is an imaginative set of transformations for solo violin on an unlikely theme. Market Forces uses traditional musical structures, like the sonata form, in decidedly non-traditional ways. It is all unpredictable, all very engaging. The performers are splendid, the sound uniformly fine. All I can say is that when the CD was over, it left me wanting Moe.

The Big City, December 2009

IVES, C.: Holidays Symphony (excerpts) / The General Slocum / Overture in G minor (Malmo Symphony, Sinclair) 8.559370
WEBERN, A.: Vocal and Orchestral Works - 5 Pieces / 5 Sacred Songs / Variations / Bach-Musical Offering: Ricercar (Craft) (Webern, Vol. 2) 8.557531
MOE, E.: Strange Exclaiming Music / Teeth of the Sea / Rough Winds Do Shake the Darling Buds / I Have Only One Itching Desire / Market Forces 8.559612

The title says ‘best of,’ but this is more like favorite music of the year, recordings that sound great and excite and please first and last. No matter the analysis or exploration of meaning, this is my list of music that I went back to again and again, just to listen to and enjoy in 2009:

It was a good year for René Jacobs, with a notable recording of Idomeneo. What I love more, though, is his new release of Haydn’s The Creation. His partnership with the Freiburger Barockorchester is one of the most exciting things in classical music today. The sound they have developed together seems the point and culmination of decades of exploring the idea of how baroque and classical music was heard when it was brand new; the sinewy, tart ensemble seems a direct expression of both conductor and the music they perform. This set grabs the attention with the best imaginable conveyance of Haydn’s representation of order forming out of chaos; every other recording I have heard presents the music as a structure coming together out of smaller fragments, and to that Jacobs adds the very idea of sound cohering out of chaos. I’ve heard no other music like this, of any kind. As usual he adds a group of stellar singers, Julia Kleiter, Maximilian Schmitt and Johannes Weisser. A fantastic recording. Here’s a sample:

Naxos puts out a vast amount of high quality music, and even at the budget price still produces recordings that are as good as they come. The company would be welcome if all they were doing was recording the standard classical repertoire, but they are important because their ambitions are greater than that. Two of their current projects are the recording of the music of Anton von Webern under the eminent conductor Robert Craft, and their tremendous American Classics series, which seeks to present, in the broadest sense, the classical music history of this country—past, present and future—and is so far succeeding beyond expectations. The second volume of Webern’s music was released this year, and features Craft leading the composer’s crystalline orchestration of Bach’s Ricercata, the Op. 5 Five Movements for String Orchestra and the great Five Pieces for Orchestra (Op. 10) and Variations (Op. 30), along with vocal and choral music. Webern was a great composer, his atonality exceedingly lyrical and beguiling, and these performances are beautiful and expressive, demanding attention.

American music means, inevitably, Charles Ives, and Naxos have already produced an extensive body of recordings of the composer, featuring rare and previously unrecorded works. All of these have been good to excellent, and their new Ives recording is their best yet and one of the best CDs of the composer’s music I’ve encountered. James Sinclair leads the Malmo Symphony and Chamber Chorus in three of the four tones poems that later made up the Holidays Symphony, interspersed with shorter works, including an interesting Overture in G Minor from the days when Ives was enthralled to Brahms and The General Slocum, a Central Park In The Dark type piece based around ‘The Sidewalks of New York.’ The Holidays movements are the finest expressions of his ideas and work and these performances are tremendous, played with the combination of great tenderness and revelry in chaos which this music requires and which is so very hard to balance. From beginning to end the performances bring for the mystic chords of memory and the choral entry and singing on the last track, ‘Thanksgiving and Forefathers Day,’ is stunning and incredibly moving.

More recent is a collection of music from Eric Moe, Strange Exclaiming Music, works for violin, saxophone and percussion. Moe has the sensibility and craft to write rigorous, serious music which communicates clearly to the listener with verve and fervor. The title piece is a violin sonata which acknowledges a tradition from Beethoven to John Adams, with an appealing gravity and rhythmic vitality. There’s an appreciation for the physical quality of rhythm that Stravinsky captured and a very American sense of lyricism coupled with a tough, determined stance. Everything sounds great, and this is not just an excellent introduction to the composer but a purely excellent disc in its own right.

Marc Farris
American Record Guide, November 2009

This is an outstanding addition to Naxos’s ‘American Classics’ series. Eric Moe is highly regarded in contemporary-music circles, especially among the younger generation, and is usually singled out for the way his music straddles the ‘cultural divide’ between popular and art music. That is hardly a unique aesthetic position these days, but Moe is especially adept at synchronizing his source influences in a language that is distinct, consistent and emotionally rich.

This collection displays his facility across a range of instrumental and formal contexts, with uniformly first-class performances that underline Moe’s expressive scope. I Have Only One Itching Desire (for six percussionists), Flex Time (for solo violin), and the outer movements of Market Forces (for saxophone quartet), with their relentless rhythms and limited (if not purely triadic) pitch content, most clearly evoke the post-minimalist idiom Moe is often associated with. And Down the Stream, Merrily (for two marimbas) is a transparent-enough illustration of Moe’s proclivity toward pop harmonies and steady, percolating patterns.  But Strange Exclaiming Music (for violin and piano, in a stellar reading by Curtis Macomber and Stephen gosling)—a work of playful virtuosity and formal complexity, which exploits the full range of expressive potential in both instruments and their combination—defies such easy categorization, and its smart placement at the beginning of the program prepares the listener for similar detail in the other pieces.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2009

All created in the past decade, Eric Moe is one of today’s controversial American  composers as he flits between many influences from Mozart to pop, rock and jazz. Born in 1954 he has received so many commissions in the States, but would gain from an international household-name presence that I expect this disc will provide. It is devoted to chamber music, the opening three tracks taken by an extended work for violin and piano, Strange Exclaiming Music, mixing atonality with pleasing melodic invention, repetitive musical cells from minimalism, jagged rhythms from jazz and a hyperactive finale from mainstream West European influences. It took time to grow on me, but once there I found it most interesting. From therein I passed through Rough Winds Do Shake the Darling Buds, for saxophone trio and oscillating between extremes of tempo and dynamics, and finally to the three movements of Market Forces, where Moe explores a the dialogue between four saxophone players. On the way I encountered Teeth of the Sea and I Have only one Itching desire, which will appeal to those who play percussion, while Flex Time, for solo violin, is short but highly interesting. The difficulty with such retrospectives comes with your response to a wide variety of differing ensembles. Without sight of scores I take the performances at face value, and they certainly carry conviction. Recorded over the past four years the sound is uniformly good.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group