WALLACE: Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra. Dance Suite. Symphonic Variations. Giga! Introduction and Passacaglia. Epilogue for String Orchestra.
Olga Dudnick, piano; Slovak Radio Orchestra/Kirk Trevor. London Symphony Orchestra/Boris Brott. Warsaw Chamber Orchestra/Mark Sewen
Albany TROY 557 (F) {DDD} TT: 55:50

Curiously uninvolving. I know of at least two composing William Wallaces. This one studied with Utah composer Leroy Robertson and with Edmund Rubbra in England. The idiom is simultaneously modern and conservative, a bit like Rubbra, actually. Everything here is extremely well-made. All that said, I wish I enjoyed the program more, and indeed others may very likely like it better. Furthermore, I have trouble putting my finger on what bothers me. It sounds handsomely, but after a couple of weeks of hard listening, I just can't put a "face" to it. Also, it simply doesn't move me, although I sense the composer working to do exactly that. I feel as if I'm watching a George Peppard movie.

The piano concerto impressed me most. The entire work grows out of three very basic ideas—no small feat. The piano writing reminded me a bit of Rachmaninov in the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, especially the quicker sections. The work is nominally in three separate movements, but the variations are so close to one another that it came across to me as a one-movement concerto with pauses.

The Dance Suite pushed my Annoy button. The movements—titled "Allemande," "Courante," "Minuet," and "Tarantella—mostly have very little to do with the actual music, as if Wallace had no idea what an allemande or courante sounded like. The "Minuet" sounds more like a courante, especially the kind that changes pulse from 3 groups of 2 to 2 groups of three to the bar. The only movement that sounds like what it's called is the "Tarantella." Similarly, Giga! (gigue, or jig) sounds like the music for the "Tarantella." Of course, Wallace can call his stuff anything he wants, including "Fred." Furthermore, if the music had involved me, I probably wouldn't have flown off on this tangent.

The Symphonic Variations is essentially a nine-minute passacaglia for orchestra. It claims to pack a surprise, which I won't give away and which an alert listener can get in the opening statement of the ground. For me, it offers no more than that, so the interest bled out of the piece pretty early. Of course, I had recently listened both to Bach's monumental c-minor passacaglia and fugue and to Lees's Passacaglia for Orchestra and may have thus presented Wallace with too severe a test.

The Introduction and Passacaglia opens "very English" with Elgar and Walton in their ceremonial robes. The Introduction's a splendid curtain-raiser. Unfortunately, it raises the curtain on nothing much. The Passacaglia's ground theme just isn't interesting enough to sustain interest in itself and allows the composer to fall into the standard passacaglia trap of harmonic stasis. It leaves you with a very short-winded idea repeated over and over and over.

The joker in the pack's the Epilogue, originally written for string quartet and performed here by string orchestra. It's a lovely five minutes, and for once the musical substance justifies all the craft.

All the performers deliver top-notch work. Olga Dudnik is one fiery pianist, suited at least for the Rachmaninovs and the Tchaikovsky. Kirk Trevor, a conductor new to me, gets the Slovak Radio Orchestra to play probably better than they really know how—as well as Boris Brott's London Symphony Orchestra, for example. Sewen, however, gets inside you, most likely because the Epilogue does. The recorded sound is very nice indeed—"creamy."

S.G.S. (August 2003)