Classical CD Reviews

ALLEN BONDE: ‘Sound Spectrum’ = 9 works – soloists/Moravian Philharmonic – Navona

Buoyant, exuberant and fun – why not?

Published on January 14, 2012

ALLEN BONDE: ‘Sound Spectrum’ = 9 works – soloists/Moravian Philharmonic – Navona

ALLEN BONDE: ‘Sound Spectrum’ = Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra, Three Elizabethan Songs, Three Elizabethan Songs Revisited, Symphony No. 1, Rose Window, Sonus I, Four Shakespeare Songs, You Were the One, Encore Blues ; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Toshiyuki Shimada, conductor/Mara Bonde, soprano/Allen Bonde, piano – Navona Records NV5862, 65:55 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

From Allen Bonde’s Mount Holyoke College faculty emeritus page, one learns that a feature article in the 1997 Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly refers to Allen Bonde as a “ball of energy” whose approach to life might best be described in musical terms:  vivace..or resoluto ; perhaps scherzando or espressivo; animato; grazioso. Listening to his music but never having met Mr. Bonde, one gets the idea.

As a pianist, Bonde has performed in many venues, including Carnegie Recital Hall, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Severance Chamber Hall. Recorded and widely commissioned, his compositions, demonstrating great diversity, have been performed throughout the world by such notables as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic brass principals, and Wong Ching-Ping, one of the most famous pipa players. (The pipa is a short-necked plucked wooden lute). He was the first musician-in-residence at the Nanyang Technological University National Institute of Education in Singapore. In June 2003, the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Republic, performed and recorded Bonde’s Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra and Jubilate: A Festive Overture.

This very engaging collection of some of Bonde’s music does indeed reveal his apparently outgoing and optimistic nature and is best looked at in groupings of genres. For example, his Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra is a short lively work that bears more than a passing resemblance to Bartok throughout. It is an exciting little piece whose tone is upbeat and propulsive. The Symphony No.1 is a two movement work and carries a different emotional weight. The opening Prelude and Variations on Two Themes (one residing mainly in the strings and the other in the winds) is a bit introspective and dark. While not strictly atonal, there is a very interesting use of polytonality based on a twelve tone row throughout. The second movement, Cadenza and Passacaglia, opens with a very playful and demanding cadenza for solo bassoon which is replied to by the rest of the winds before the texture expands throughout the orchestra and develops into a nearly traditional passacaglia. The interest here is in following the pieces of melody and the amazing use of tone color and variety. There are timbral combinations and textures in this work that reminded me of Bartok, Stravinsky; even a little Berg. Both of these are very nice pieces and the Moravian Philharmonic (this time under Toshiyuki Shimada) does their usual excellent job with unfamiliar scores.

Bonde’s daughter, Mara Bonde, is a soprano of note and gets a nice chance to showcase her talents and that of her father’s vocal writing in three separate small song cycles. Three Elizabethan Songs and Three Elizabethan Songs Revisited are two different versions of the same source material. Three Elizabethan Songs was composed in 1965 at Mount Holyoke and the Songs Revisited was written in 1991 with the same text material and titles but with Bonde’s desire to modernize or – literally – revisit the source. The 1965 work is very pretty and fairly simplistic whereas the later version treats the same texts with what the composer considers more emotional range. If you listen to both versions one song at a time (for example, A Ditty 1965, then the 1991) you do get a clear notion of the composer’s desire to “revisit” and reimagine the same texts. Bonde’s Four Shakespeare Songs from 1974 is actually a reduction for solo singer and piano of some of his score for a musical setting of “Taming of the Shrew” by colleague Jim Cavanaugh. The music is catchy, albeit definitely “theater-ish”. There is a bit of theatrical element in all of these vocal works but the large contrasts heard from one to the next illustrate Bonde’s versatility.

The last category to explore in this interesting and eclectic collection is Bonde’s piano music. The composer is joined by wife Maria in the two-piano work, Rose Window, which takes its title from the cause of its commission: to serve as a reflective work for the unveiling of the rose window in the Mount Holyoke Chapel. This is a very nice straightforward work that is built around patterns of five in significance to one of the principal design elements within the window. Sonus I draws upon some of the same serial techniques used in the Symphony No. 1. This is a rather “academic” sounding work that sounds improvisatory but is actually very tightly and specifically notated.

This collection concludes with the solo song You Were the One after a poem by Mary Jo Salter. This is a very short but quite pretty work in which Mara Bonde again does a very nice job. This is followed by Bonde’s Encore Blues, which is, literally, an improv performed by the composer after a recording session. It is catchy and does show his skills quite nicely but also stands apart from everything else in this collection almost distractingly.

Allen Bonde is, clearly, a talented and probably very upbeat engaging guy whose music can be very academic and serious one moment and light and theatrical the next. I think the latter is his area of strength. He also seems to be one of the many, many composers who are worth discovering but who do not seem to have a unique or defining sound. However, he also seems to be one of the many, many composers who are worth discovering who does a very pleasant, engaging sound – so why not check this out?

—Daniel Coombs




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