Fantasia & Other Pieces
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This recording of Allen Shawn's chamber music adds to his Albany Records discography.

Composer Allen Shawn (b. 1948) has been on the faculty at Bennington College since 1985. His works include symphonies, concertos, works for large ensemble, choral, vocal and chamber music, as well as music for piano. He is also the author of four books. His works appear on numerous recordings on Albany Records. This recording is a collection of chamber music: a work for cello; a work for double bass and piano; a suite for trumpet and bassoon; and a work for chamber ensemble.
Allen Shawn, composer
Fantasia for Cello
Maxine Neuman (cello)

Allen Shawn, composer
Holger Michalski (double bass); Julia Bartha (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Summer Suite for Trumpet & Bassoon
Jim Stubbs (trumpet); Laurie Stubbs (bassoon)

Allen Shawn, composer
In Memory Of
Jo-Ann Sternberg (clarinet); Sheila Reinhold (violin); Maxine Neuman (cello); Genevieve Feiwen Lee (piano)

This fine omnibus of chamber music by American composer Allen Shawn forms a portrait of an artist who uses an unabashedly sensuous language to engage his listeners. Two of the four works here are memorial pieces, but all of the works feature a rich, often melancholic (but not overly dark) profile. This quality is enhanced by Shawn’s use of instruments at the lower end of the frequency range: bassoon, cello, double bass. The opening work is a Fantasia for solo cello that runs for twenty minutes. It was written in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the mother of a friend. The music is rhapsodic and long-lined, with a dramatic heft that is reminiscent of Kodaly’s great sonata for solo cello. The Aria-Caprice (those are the work’s two movements) was also written for friends, in this case the husband and wife team who play it on this recording. Holger Michalski’s double bass playing is extraordinarily expressive, a quality that is especially at play in this flowing, melodic music. Another husband and wife duet perform the Summer Suite, a four-section work that alternates brief slow and lively turns. In Memory Of was written in response to the death of Shawn’s mother, and was first performed in 2006 by the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, which commissioned the work. It is by far the most texturally dense and harmonically complex work on the program, with sections of the music contrasting lyrical and chromatic writing, a reflection perhaps of the composer’s agitated emotional state at the time. The Nocturne, for example, features a dreamy melody, played on both the violin and then the clarinet, while the piano spikes the music with dissonant counterpoint. A jagged, fast-moving Scherzi also portrays an uneasy tension, almost nightmarish in tone. The work opens and closes with impassioned In Memory Of pieces. The performance here, and on all of the music, is first-class. (Fanfare)

Allen Shawn, son of the New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother of actor-play-wright Wallace Shawn, writes music that is by turns playful, moody, despairing, elegiac, and jazzy. Most of it is tonal, but he is not afraid of dissonance or the occasional tone row. As I wrote in my review of Volume 3 of his piano works, his music is well crafted and often quite accessible. Here we get a sample of his cham-ber music, and the qualities remain the same. The Aria Caprice for bass and piano has a long bluesy melody in the Aria that illustrates Shawn’s lyrical gift. Full of syncopation and gruff, rapid lines, the Caprice offers a return of the opening lyricism near the end. The bold, operatic Fantasia for solo cello shows off the virtuosity and juicy tone of Max-ine Neuman. Shawn’s fondness for odd, idio-syncratic colors and textures comes to the fore in the Summer Suite for Trumpet and Bassoon. The timbres are so interesting that sometimes you can’t tell which instrument is playing. It begins mournfully, with a brief specimen of serialism, then becomes jerky and playful in a movement accurately called `Brash’. The longest movement is the chantlike III, described as “inward, plaintive”. Shawn’s love of jazz returns in the finale, a riff on Be-bop. The most personal piece, In Memory of is a sweetly somber memorial for Shawn’s mother. The quiet ending is angelic, a poignant ending for a welcome disc. (American Record Guide)
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