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Walter Simmons
Fanfare, July 2012

I have been following the music of Paul Moravec for about 10 years now, and I find him to be one of the most rewarding compositional voices of his generation. This new release introduces us to three more of his fine works, all first recordings.

What appears to be the primary work is Useful Knowledge. Subtitled “A Franklin Fantasy,”…The 19-minute work is scored for baritone soloist with a small mixed chamber ensemble, including glass harmonica…It appears most notably at the very beginning and again toward the end. The text…emphasizes Franklin’s metaphysical thinking, and certain lines are given added emphasis through repetition…What the text reveals so interestingly is Franklin’s fusion of the utilitarian with the sacred…But as interesting as the concept may be, the reader may well ask just what role music can be expected to play in work that deals largely with ideas, rather than with mood, emotion, drama, or sensation…Perhaps the best answer is that music can provide a pleasing aural framework for such thoughts…That is precisely what Moravec has done here, while imparting to this framework an eager, hopeful exuberance that is wholly in keeping with the selected texts. In previous works Moravec has shown a particular mastery in writing for small mixed chamber ensembles, and that mastery is fully in evidence here. The vocal contribution, rendered sensitively by Randall Scarlata…[provides] an apt vehicle for Franklin’s ideas. All in all, it is an unusual, appealing, and highly effective work.

The other vocal work is Vita Brevis…in a version for soprano and piano trio. Trio Solisti has performed and recorded a good deal of Moravec’s music, and displays a deep understanding of the composer’s mode of expression. Soprano Amy Burton fulfills her role with considerable sensitivity and musicianship. The unusual twist here is that the emotional journey runs from gloom to joy, rather than the opposite direction encountered more often. Moravec writes lyrical vocal lines well suited to the voice…

The remainder of the program is devoted to Characteristics, a group of seven solo piano pieces averaging three to four minutes each…they represent Moravec’s application of another familiar conceit, each piece attempting to capture an aspect of the character of one of his musical friends. Moravec is at his most inventive and distinctive in his fast music, and that is clearly the case here. He creates patterns in perpetual motion that have a lightness and airiness that are easily identifiable as his and invariably appealing. They are performed here by Simon Mulligan…His performance here is astounding in its technical security and precision in the fast pieces, while displaying great sensitivity, elegance, and grace in the others.

Listeners who have enjoyed previous recordings of Moravec’s music are likely to be equally pleased with this latest release. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

William R. Braun
Opera News, July 2012

The biggest work on offer here, the nineteen-minute single-movement cantata Useful Knowledge: A Franklin Fantasy (2006)…involves an artful arrangement of text. Large paragraphs of Benjamin Franklin’s words are interspersed with aphorisms, in the manner of Britten’s plot for the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake. The music too has a firm form, something that cannot be taken for granted today. Moravec writes a huge climax of pure major chords, across all registers, two-thirds of the way through. Franklin’s famous invention, the glass harmonica, is heard at the beginning and end of the piece, merged with string harmonics.

Characteristics, for solo piano, is a substantial intermezzo between the vocal items. These seven impressions of musicians are a more extended version of the little pieces in Virgil Thomson’s Portraits and Leonard Bernstein’s Anniversary sets. The highlights are “Serene,” a sketch of the countertenor Russell Oberlin in which the registers of the piano are carefully set out and maintained, and “Elegant,” an exploration of the resonances of the instrument well-suited to the pianism of the dedicatee, Anthony de Mare. Simon Mulligan plays them all with complete command. © 2012 Opera News Read complete review

Marcus Karl Maroney, January 2012

The three works all have a similar dramatic arc, especially in Moravec’s consistent nostalgic ending. Even in the fast movements, there is never a sense of overwhelming exuberance, and throughout everything is beautiful, never edgy… © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2012

Paul Moravec is a very individual voice in American music, embracing both tonal and atonal idioms characterised by unusual sonorities. Born in 1957, he was educated at Harvard and Columbia Universities, and with his career divided between teaching and composing, his catalogue contains more than eighty scores that embrace orchestral, chamber and choral genres. Here we have three world premiere recordings of works composed over the past fifteen years. The earliest comes from 1996 with seven cameos that build a substantial piano work, Characteristics. Each is a picture of a musical friend characterised in a mood, the countertenor, Russell Oberlin, for example, pictured as ‘serene’. Stylistically I would describe it as ‘attractive atonality’ and very much a fun piece, with a particularly attractive ‘elegant’ movement. It was premiered by the outstanding British pianist on this disc, Simon Mulligan. Ten years later Useful Knowledge: A Franklin Fantasy is scored for baritone, instrumental quartet and glass harmonica. It uses as its text the writings of Benjamin Franklin. We move back into tonality, with a rewarding lyric role for the soloist, and an effectively coloured backdrop. The disc opens with a composition from two years ago, Vita Brevis, for soprano and piano trio. In the world of tonality, the five songs trace life from childhood to the grave, using texts by famous writers. It proves a very engaging work with Amy Burton as the silvery voiced soloist. Reviewing a previous Moravec disc I wrote, ‘I will certainly look forward to hearing more of this obviously gifted composer’, a statement renewed by this new release.

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