Jay Greenberg

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.5
String Quintet

London Symphony Orchestra
José Serebrier

Juilliard Quartet [Joel Smirnoff & Ronald Copes (violins), Samuel Rhodes (viola) & Joel Krosnick (cello)] with Darrett Adkins (cello)

Symphony recorded on 3 February 2006 in Abbey Road Studios, London; String Quintet recorded on 16 February 2006 in Purchase College Theater A, New York

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2006
Duration: 53 minutes

Jay Greenberg was born in 1991. The information in the booklet doesn’t confirm that he is American (yet there’s enough to suggest he is). He has a website, of course, and this is linked to at the foot of this review. Greenberg can be termed a child prodigy and he has reached a Fifth Symphony, here recorded, which was completed in 2005.

The String Quintet, although second on the CD, was my first encounter with his music. Greenberg, having satisfied himself that there are no string quintets with two cellos, except Schubert’s – he has thus failed to discover the many examples by Boccherini (as has anyone who read his note prior to publication) – set about favouring the viola against a pair of violins and a pair of cellos. Greenberg’s String Quintet is in three movements, the first is introspective and reminds of Shostakovich; the other two are lighter and make an effective counterbalance to the first. Whether the musical material is distinctive enough, there’s no doubting the fluency with which the work is constructed (some of the faster music recalls Bartók) and there is no doubt an innate musical input here. One curious effect is that the lack of musical substance – although it communicative – is offset by a precocious gift to be musical. The performance, very well recorded, by one of the elite chamber ensembles, suggests that the Juilliard Quartet and guest second cellist, Darrett Adkins, were very appreciative of Greenberg’s well-judged writing.

More world-class musicians, those of the London Symphony Orchestra, tackle Greenberg’s Fifth Symphony, which the composer describes as a “counter-stereotypical work combining a Romantic melodic sweep with the methodical mathematical thinking of the serialists”. Lasting 33 minutes or so, the four-movement symphony is linear and concise. The first of these is rather strident in places and suggestively pastoral in others; such contrasts do not, however, quite make for symphonic integration and one – again – admires how Greenberg takes his ideas on a journey rather than the ideas themselves. There are, along the way, some arresting asides, the most touching being the most ‘simple’; more complex passages are a touch functional, although there’s no doubting Greenberg’s organisational skills.

Influences seem numerous, yet these are not applied; rather it seems that Greenberg has absorbed much and is able to put it back as ‘himself’, yet, not unreasonably given his age, a distinct musical language is not yet formed, and some of the ideas are, therefore, genuinely immature. The second movement scherzo is a case in point; old-hat in one sense, fresh-minted in another – as a rumbustious, rather filmic parade is presented. The ‘Fantasia’ slow movement is the most successful; long-lined and expressive, searching and striving. The finale, following attacca, is bright and breezy and syncopated; it would bring the house down but isn’t memorable. José Serebrier leads a performance of obvious excellence.

It will be interesting to see how Jay Greenberg develops.

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