Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Richard Wernick Chamber Works strikes a balance

Richard Wernick said, "I'm not writing to an audience which is illiterate and I'm not writing to an audience which is technically educated in music, but I do write for an audience that I assume has experience in listening to music and is willing to at least meet me halfway. So I'll go halfway to meet them." And that idea holds true with this latest release of his music.

The three works span two decades, and all simultaneously invite the listener in and challenge them. The earliest work is the Concerto for Cello and Ten Players (1980), composed the year after Wernick won the Pulitzer Prize for music.

Cellist Barbara Haffner, for whom the work was dedicated, performs in this recording. It's a complex, multi-textured work that places great demands on the soloist. Haffner knows this music intimately, and even in the thorniest of passages brings out the inherent beauty and expressiveness of the music.

Haffner also performs in the other two works, the 1994 Piano Trio No. 1 and the 2003 Sextet. The Trio also features Lambert Orkis (piano) and Gregory Fulkerson (violin).

I found the Sextet of especial interest. It seemed to be the most accessible of the three works. Motifs seemed easier to identify and follow, and I felt a stronger sense of tonal organization. And it also seemed the most expressive.

Wernick's music isn't completely atonal nor tonal. It's not minimalist, though it does have a pulse. It's not post-modern, nor is it academic modernist. It's halfway between all those opposites. And in this release, Wernick does indeed meet his audience halfway.

Richard Wernick: Chamber Works 
Sextet: Robert Hanford, violin 1; Sheila Hanford, violin 2; Keith Conant, viola; Barbara Haffner, cello; Collins Trier, bass; Alan Chow, piano 
Concerto for Cello and Ten Players: Barbara Haffner, cello; Gregory Fulkerson, violin, Andrew Anderson, bass; Kate Eakin, oboe; Laurie Bloom, bass clarinet, Drew Thompson, contrabassoon; Matt Bronstein, French Horn; Chris Hasselbring, trumpet, Nicholas Pine, trombone; Marcia Labella, harp; Matthew Coley, percussion; Robert Trevino, conductor 
 Piano Trio No. 1: Lambert Orkis, piano; Gregory Fulkerson, violin; Barbara Haffner, cello 
Bridge Records 9480

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