I was delighted to receive this disc directly from the composer. I had not been familiar with Harold Meltzer‘s (1966- ) work so this would be my introduction. The disc contains two works, a Piano Quartet (2016) and a song cycle, Variations on a Summer Day (2012-2016). Both are functional titles which tell the listener little about what to expect in terms of style. I was even more delighted when he kindly sent me some PDF scores of these pieces.
The Piano Quartet might be described as post minimal I suppose but the salient characteristic of this piece is that it is exciting and quite listenable. It is also quite a workout for the musicians. In fact this piece seems to embody a variety of styles which give it a friendly romantic gloss at times. This is a fine addition to the Piano Quartet repertoire.
The musicians that do such justice to this composition are: Boston Chamber Music Society: Harumi Rhodes, violin, Dimitri Murrath, viola, Ramen Ramakrishnan, violoncello, and Max Levinson, piano. All are kept quite busy and seems to be enjoying themselves. I can’t imagine this not playing well to the average chamber music audience.
The song cycle, “Variations on a Summer Day” sets poetry by Wallace Stevens and Meltzer’s compositional style seems to be a good fit for Stevens’ poetic style. This work is stylistically very similar to the Piano Quartet with hints of minimalism within a larger somewhat romantic style. It is scored for chamber orchestra with soprano solo. Actually the orchestra is Ensemble Sequitur, a group founded in part by the composer and clearly dedicated to the performance of new music. The members of this group include: Abigail Fischer, soprano, Jayce Ogren, conductor, Tara O’Connor and Barry Crawford, flutes, Alan Kay and Vicente Alexim, clarinets, Margaret Kampmeier, piano, Miranda Cuckson and Andrea Schultz, violins, Daniel Panner, viola, Greg Hesselink, violoncello.
The poem is by the sometimes obtuse American poet Wallace Stevens. Maybe “obtuse” is the wrong word but Stevens is not the easiest read. What is interesting is how well this composer’s style fits this poetic utterance. This is a lovely song cycle that puts this writer in the mind of Copland’s Dickinson Songs and Barber’s Hermit Songs and perhaps his Knoxville Summer of 1915. There is an air of romantic nostalgia in this tonal and passionate setting.
Stevens’ poetry has been inspiring American composers for some years. Works like Roger Reynolds’ “The Emperor of Ice CreamThe Emperor of Ice Cream“(1961-2) demonstrate an effective avant garde setting of another of his works. It is fascinating to hear how different composers utilize the poet’s work. The present cycle is a beautiful setting which presents a challenge to the musicians which is met quite successfully here.