ROSS: Concerto for Flute and Guitar. Concerto for Oboe d'Amore. Concerto
for Bassoon and String Orchestra. Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and String Orchestra.
M. Turner (flute); Radka Kubrova (guitar); Michal Sintal (oboe d'amore);
Ramon Mesina (bassoon); Igor Fabera (oboe); Adriana Antalová (harp);
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor.
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Mayflies. Now in his seventies, American composer Walter Ross has led a
steady, quiet career, mostly in academia. A student of such luminaries
as Robert Palmer, Karel Husa, and Alberto Ginastera, he has had most renown
as a writer of band and brass music, although he has produced a large catalogue
in all genres. His music lies closest to that of Palmer.
Sometimes I get a little depressed about the state of classical music,
in that too many people seem to love it not for itself, but as an emblem
of prestige. This happens across interest groups, from the No Real Music
After Mahler bloc to the All Music More than a Week Old Is Dead folks.
Most of us seem to be looking for the next Beethoven and the latest Missa
solemnis and ignore other things as not worth the time or, at best, guilty
pleasures -- not that a new work as powerful as the Missa wouldn't be welcome.
Yet I've always believed that music speaks to many parts of our lives,
not just when we aspire to saint and sage. If we listen only to Beethoven,
Brahms, Mahler, Ravel, and Stravinsky, we miss the delights of Vorisek,
Theo Kirchner, Brian, Ropartz, and Talma -- pretty much the state of the
audience today. At least there are plenty of candidates for revival.
Ross's music harkens back to Piston in the Forties -- handsome, rhythmically
vital, lyrical, elegantly crafted. Each one of these concerti delights
and satisfies. The music beautifully suits each of the solo instruments.
Ross creates wonderful, unpredictable melodies, avoiding commonplace turns
and somewhat modal or Hindemithian quartal in sound. The orchestration
is streamlined and gorgeous, in an understated way, particularly in the
concerto for flute and guitar. The guitar demands gentle treatment from
the orchestra in order to be heard at all and gets it. The effect becomes
something like hearing three simultaneous planes of music: the flute, the
orchestra, and the guitar.
However, Ross may well be too modest for his own good. In none of the concerti
do we hear, despite the immense pleasure as we listen, anything specific
that sticks in the memory -- no vulgar genius theme, for example. We tend
to take away general characteristics. For example, I can remember the main
themes of all three movements in the Vaughan Williams oboe concerto (a
modest item in the composer's catalogue) and none in Ross's. Oboists, with
limited solo opportunities, have lined up to record the Vaughan Williams
and seem not to know the Ross at all. Yet the Ross is as fine as the Vaughan
Williams and in many technical details better worked. Of course, Vaughan
Williams has both name recognition and bona fide hits. Ross doesn't strike
me as a composer interested in writing another Rite of Spring, and I have
no idea whether such a composer can survive in today's sensationalist,
media-driven climate. I can always hope.
The CD's production is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the performances
and the recording are quite fine. Trevor and his Slovaks give more than
They play with understanding and sympathy. The jacket features a marvelous
landscape (by the composer's mother) that I wish I could hang on my own
wall. In many ways, it reminds me of Ross's music -- wonderfully proportioned,
fine and stylish, and which doesn't rub a viewer's nose in its beauty.
On the other, the notes and listings are a mess. We have no idea who
the soloists are, and the contents are mislabeled. The jacket lists the
in the following order:
Having gone to the trouble of recording this music and lavishing fine
graphics on the jacket, you'd think Ravello would want to get the basics right.
1. Oboe d'amore
3. Flute and guitar
4. Oboe and harp
The correct order is
1. Flute and guitar
2. Oboe d'amore
3. Bassoon 4
4. Obo and Harp
S.G.S. (May 2014)