Classical CD Reviews

“Convergence” – DAVID NISBET STEWART: Concerto for Piano and Orch.; Suite for Piano-Brass Quartet; GERSHWIN: Porgy and Bess (Suite for Brass) – Martin Levicky, piano/ Moravian Philharmonic Orch./ Petr Vronsky/ Karolina Rojahn, piano & brass trio/Tower Brass Quintet – Navona

Another interesting examples of two most accessible modern works, sandwiching a fine brass version of selections from Porgy and Bess.

Published on November 21, 2012

“Convergence” – DAVID NISBET STEWART: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Suite for Piano-Brass Quartet; GERSHWIN: Porgy and Bess (Suite for Brass) – Martin Levicky, piano/ Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/ Petr Vronsky/ Karolina Rojahn, piano & brass trio/Tower Brass Quintet – Navona Records NV5892 [Distr. by Naxos] [11/13/12] ****:

This is another fascinating exposure to very accessible new music, from a composer who reports that he really likes the harmony of Gershwin (as well as Ravel and Bartok). So the delightful set of seven selections from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in the middle of this CD makes a most appropriate centerpiece for the outside two works by Stewart.  Stewart reports in the note booklet that he showed some of his music to an alumnus of his conservatory, and the composer said, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but your music seems accessible.”  Exactly.  After a decade in the academic music world, Stewart found he could apply his skills in electronic music to industrial computer programming, and he did that. He also has been an organist and choir director in Episcopal churches

In addition to the 20th century composers, Stewart also appreciates Bach, Corelli, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, even Webern. He has studied music history and likes to use Gregorian Chant elements in some of his works, and the Piano Concerto is one of these. He uses the time-honored technique of a cantus firmus taken from an 11th century easter sequence titled Victimae Paschali Laudes, and fully develops it in the first of his three-movement concerto. Page 5 in the digital notes on this enhanced CD carries the entire Gregorian Chant. The beauty of its tune and phrasing made it attractive to him, and he also uses a ritornello. This he describes as like a club sandwich with each bread slice representing the ritornello or main theme, and the filling between the slices representing episodes of contrasting material. A complete analysis of the entire concerto is in the notes on this enhanced CD. The Moravian Philharmonic has been serving a number of American composers very well over the years. They are totally familiar with and capable of excellent performances for those productions who cannot afford the high costs of recording symphony orchestras in the U.S., and have backed that up with 87 CDs out there so far.

Stewart often takes works for keyboard and morphs them into other works for chamber or orchestral forces. This is what he did with the Suite for Piano-Brass Quartet, which is so titled because it only involves three of the instruments of the typical brass quartet. It is in six short movements—some just around two minutes. They are: Fanfare, Scherzo, Jitterbug, Pastorale, Habanera and Giga.

—John Sunier




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