Piano Sonata No.2
Steeples In My Soul: Movements for Alto Flute
Sonata for Cello Solo
Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano
Juliet: Five songs from Shakespeare for Soprano, Violin, Organ, and Tubular Bells
Matthew Bengtson (piano)
Carla Rees (alto flute)
Jeffrey Solow (cello)
The New Carillon Ensemble
The Temple New Music Trio
Mary Elizabeth Poore (soprano), Laura Frautschi (violin), Thomas Schmidt (organ) & John Dolbashian (bells)
Recorded in 2004 & 2005 in various locations in America and London
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: January 2006
CD No: CAPSTONE RECORDS
Duration: 79 minutes
One of the many benefits of recording is the possibility it offers when wishing to discover new composers and new music. In the case of Maryland-born David Bennett Thomas (born 1969), it’s likely many have not heard his music before – I certainly hadn’t, although a previous volume of his music exists, examining vocal and chamber compositions. On hearing this, his teacher Lukas Foss proclaimed: “I have great confidence in his future, and would not be surprised if this CD makes it big”. Three years on, and a companion disc has appeared, an anthology of Thomas’s work for smaller ensembles with many good things to recommend it, provided the variable recorded sound is taken on board.
The selection begins with a resourceful performance of the Second Piano Sonata from Matthew Bengtson. The contrapuntal motion early on has elements of Hindemith, with a rhythmic drive that gives the music extra momentum. The reflective central section of this single-movement work is nicely done, with its initial call to arms returning at the close. The recording, rather dry, is not the most complimentary, but the piece convinces on both structural and emotional levels.
Steeples In My Soul follows with not enough pause, a potentially irritating feature of the disc to bear in mind. However, Carla Rees gives a performance of colour, her pianissimos barely audible in the soft, lower register. Cellist Jeffrey Solow, meanwhile, takes on the five-movement Solo Sonata with some purpose, the first movement (marked ‘Robust’) carrying the necessary grit and determination. The anguished ‘Lament’ then leads to a humorous third movement (‘Galloping’), where Solow’s pizzicato evokes a mischievous tune, childlike in its simplicity. Sadly the recording is found out again in the subsequent movements as the cellist heads for the higher register, but that doesn’t sour an invigorating cocktail of style and technique.
“Blake Songs” is set for soprano, alto, tenor and bass with piano accompaniment. The first setting, “Spring”, sets a memorable hook to the word “merrily”, taken on by Mary Elizabeth Poore and Arthur Krieck. Poore’s vibrato is exaggerated at times, but the lovely melody for “A Dream” transcends this, as does the skilful combination of two poems to close, “The Lamb” and “Infant Joy”.
The trio for flute, cello and piano is dedicated to Aaron Copland, and this is manifested in a spiky first movement, insistent figurations on piano and cello countered by a more lyrical flute line. Again the recording is on the close side and a little harsh as a consequence, but there follows a static yet curiously moving Adagio at the work’s heart, before the enjoyably throwaway finale.
After such relatively dry timbres, the warm sonority of the organ comes as something of a surprise for the song-cycle “Juliet”, the most substantial (23 minutes) and emotionally satisfying work here. After a moving, almost Messiaenic introduction, the violin traces the voice exactly in the vocalise of “O serpent heart…”, using repetition of a melodic loop to a powerful climax – easily the most impressive moment of the disc. The final movement, “What’s Here?”, builds up from an extremely mellow organ sound, the violin is rather flat in its entry but in a way that may be intentional, since it brings an uniquely ‘off-kilter’ sound in tandem with the tubular bells.
To sum up, an extremely interesting group of compositions, with “Juliet” in particular making a case for further exploration. The directness of David Bennett Thomas’s communication with the listener should also be noted, for he makes music that speaks with no pretensions, and makes for a rewarding listening experience.