About the only demonstrable good to come out of George W. Bush’s war on
terror is Roger Rudenstein’s discreet, heartfelt condemnation of “above all
else, let there be oil,” in his “State of the Union” portion of Nightmare of
Reason (birthed in reaction to 9/11 and inspired by Goya’s “The Sleep of
Reason Produces Monsters” 1799 etching).
The three-voice, four-instrument septet incorporates lines from the actual
2005 State of the Union address to add extra verisimilitude to the biting
indictment of wanton destruction under the guise of liberating the
oppressed. “No peace without victory” begins with a darkly set overture.
Richard Stoltzman’s ever-versatile clarinet leads the fray with pertinent
contributions from a clarion trumpet (Terry Everson, whose upper register is
a constant pleasure) and Bill Manley’s appropriately jingoistic snare, the
stage is quickly set for this American A Soldier’s Tale. The voices are subtly
prefaced with peaceful chords via Paul Dykstra’s empathetic touch. They
grow to become a marvel of human despair in ways the current
administration will never appreciate.
The frenzy of unstoppable addiction comes through loud and clear in
“Addicted to oil.” No parody here. Bassoonist Ron Haroutunian is an ideal
match for Stoltzman. Their common approach to articulation and liquid tones
subliminally underscore the subject matter. A couple of sudden stops and
thirsty continuations credibly spew the notion “Do we have enough? No –
never!” The near-perfect vocal trio convincingly scream to the boardroom of
Exxon, but no one believes that that management could ever take the first
step of the fabled twelve.
Mezzo-soprano D’Anna Fortunato is a miracle of control with Villa-Lobos-like
“ah” whether solo or the third voice (with clarinet and bassoon) in “A dark
vision of hatred and fear.” Her spectacular changes of register inspire shock
and awe of a much truer kind than that which emanates from the White
House. Finally, this compelling essay slinks away into darkness that not
even the occasional perfect fourth can forgive.
The brooding opening of Rudenstein’s 2006 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
fits like an emotional glove with all that has passed before it. The multi-
section work is a study of one-on-one relationships, beginning with the
gradual establishment of roles and boundaries through which the clarinet is
challenged with fiendishly difficult register shifts and squeals that are largely
conquered. As the music finds its way, passing through Dykstra’s beautifully
rendered moments of inner simplicity and edgy nervousness, it falls to
Stoltzman to slip in and join his partner with an effortless legato that is
coloured with the too-infrequently-heard hue of Lutoslawki’s Dance
Preludes. The energetic finale is both a technical tour de force and an
emotional rollercoaster fuelled from a growing sense of urgency that time is
running out. When it, inevitably, does, Stoltzman soars to the stratosphere
with brilliance, but finds himself alone.
Which may very well explain the inclusion of the Piano Sonata No. 7 in Three
Movements. From the oh-so-Schubertian lyricism of the opening measures,
Dykstra is at one with Rudenstein’s deeply personal exploration of the human
psyche where anger is never far from the surface. The middle movement is
an engaging kind of Intermezzo whose varying moods and textures—
especially the impish glee that effectively tempers the relentless search for
self—that makes time evaporate rather than pass. With so much angular
construction in the disc up to this point, the appearance of triplets that
attempt to calm the “Great Gate of Life” is a structural and compositional
gem that teases the hope for consonance and, perhaps, constancy. One
last mighty hurrah quashes that fantasy but leaves the ear hoping for the
next installment from a composer who fills each canvas with instrumental
expertise and the full range of human experience.
by S. James Wegg
REASON TO CELEBRATE