This is the second Harold Meltzer (1966- ) disc to come across my desk in the last two months or so. This time he is heard on the venerable Bridge label which produces a great deal of quality recordings of new and recent music. This one contains four works spread over 15 tracks and, like his previous CD, includes some vocal music alongside two chamber music pieces without voice.
Meltzer seems to be one of a generation of composers who have absorbed many of the vast styles and methods which flowered in the twentieth century. He is not easy to categorize except as a composer. There are in his music gestures and ideas that span neo-romanticism, minimalism, etc. but he has a distinctive and very affecting style.
Meltzer’s ability to write for the human voice and these songs put this reviewer in the mind of composers like Ned Rorem. I’m not saying he exactly sounds like Rorem, just that he is as effective in his writing. Stylistically there is at times an almost impressionist feel in these songs and, while the piano accompaniment is wonderful, they almost beg to be orchestrated.
There are two song cycles on this disc, the first setting poems of Ted Hughes (Bride of the Island, 2016) and the second setting poems by Ohio poet James Wright (Beautiful Ohio, 2010). Tenor Paul Appleby had his work cut out for him and he delivers wonderful performances with a voice that is well suited to lieder but clearly with operatic ability as well. Pianist Natalya Katyukova handles the intricate accompaniments with deceptive ease in these cycles.
There are two chamber works on this disc. The first is Aqua (2011-12) which is inspired by the architecture of the so-called Aqua building in Chicago by architect Jeanne Gang. In a city known for its fine architecture this 2007 building manages to stand out in its uniqueness. Need I say that his piece suggests impressionism. It’s string writing is complex with a vast mixture of effects that, under the interpretive skill of the Avalon String Quartet, suggest movement in much the way the building itself does. This is genius, the ability to mix all these string techniques into a coherent whole. It is a basically tonal work and it is seriously engaging but listener friendly in the end.
The second chamber work is a piece written for the 50th anniversary of the death of legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler. As it happens the Library of Congress, who commissioned the piece, owns Kreisler’s Guarneri violin and it is they who commissioned this work. Miranda Cuckson does the honors on violin ably accompanied by the trustworthy Blair McMillen. To be sure some of Kreisler’s style is used here but this work, “Kreisleriana” (2012) comes across as more than an homage, more a work informed by Kreisler. It’s a really entertaining piece too.
Thanks in particular to Bridge Records for releasing this. Bridge is one of those labels whose every release deserves at least a bit of attention. This time I think they’ve found a fascinating voice in Meltzer’s works. Now how about some orchestral work?