There is no small irony for this reviewer in the title of this offering. As soon as it was removed from its packaging I, much as Alice was implored by the comestibles in Wonderland, felt compelled by joyous expectation to consume it with eyes and ears. And I was not disappointed.
Three composers are represented with one work each (two by Mr. Jalbert) in an album of recent compositions in modern but essentially tonal chamber music for highly skilled musicians. All But one (Secret Alchemy) are world premiere recordings commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music and all contribute most handsomely to the piano and strings literature.
The highly skilled musicians are the extraordinary Australian Bernadette Harvey on piano with the Jupiter Quartet (Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violins; Liz Freivogel, viola; and Daniel McDonough, cello). They play extremely well together despite having to navigate all new and challenging material. Harvey, in addition to traditional repertoire is a major advocate for living Australian composers.
The album opens with Piano Quintet (2017) by Pierre Jalbert (1967- ) which draws as much on the romantic tradition (can one hear the ensemble name “piano quintet” without thinking of Schubert, Brahms, and Schumann?) of that ensemble’s configuration as on his more modernist sense of rhythm and harmony. It is cast in four movements titled, Mannheim Rocket, Kyrie, Scherzo, and Pulse. This is a major work by a composer new to these ears and apparently very substantial. This is highly engaging music with romantic leanings perhaps but there is nothing derivative here. This composer is a voice that deserves an ear or two.
Next up is music by the late lamented Steven Stucky (1949-2016). While I regret not having gotten to know a lot of his music during his lifetime I find myself enthralled at the power and lyricism of each work I hear (the man was prolific too so I have much listening to catch up on). This one is no exception, Piano Quartet (2004-5) is in a single movement with multiple sections of varied character. Anyone who has heard any of Stucky’s music will find this piece both exciting and accessible.
Carl Vine (1954- ) is a prolific Australian composer (the only non-American composer represented) whose work certainly deserves to be better known outside of his native country. He does appear to get recognition and respect there and with Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013) we can see why. This one movement work is (like the Stucky piece) divided into sections played without pause. This is another work of both power and virtuosity which holds the listener’s interest and, ultimately, provides a satisfying concert experience.
The program ends with another substantial work from Mr. Jalbert, a piano quintet in all but name. Secret Alchemy (2012) allows us to hear some earlier chamber music writing by this composer. Again each movement is given a title but this time they are more like expression markings and less poetic. They are: Mystical, Agitated, Timeless, and With Great Energy. Why that’s practically a program note! And like the piece that opened this disc it indeed has great energy and will engage the listener.
This album exceeded my enthusiastic expectations and I will listen again, probably many times. Well done.