Variations on a Summer Day & Piano Quartet – Open G Records
San Francisco Chronicle
Stylistic versatility can sometimes be a mixed blessing for a composer, but Harold Meltzer puts it to wonderful use in the song cycle that takes up most of this enchanting and unpredictable new release. In setting Wallace Stevens’ “Variations on a Summer Day,” Meltzer tackles a 20-stanza skein of sensory evocations, memories and ruminations that skitter this way and that, and his writing for chamber group and soprano is vividly responsive. Each strophe creates a distinctive sound world on the fly — now fiercely dissonant, now languid and sweet-toned — and the piece moves from one to the next with quicksilver elusiveness. Anchoring the proceedings are Meltzer’s sure-footed harmonic palette and the subtle eloquence of Abigail Fischer’s singing, which seems to dart over and under Stevens’ words, illuminating them from within. Meltzer’s Piano Quartet, which alternates between prickly pointillism and full-voiced lyricism, makes an inviting curtain-raiser.
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
I have had the pleasure of encountering the music of Harold Meltzer via a harpsichord work in an anthology.of harpsichord music I covered here some time ago (you can look it up by typing Meltzer in the search box at the top) and, most importantly, I reviewed his Naxos CD in 2010, which I loved (see the Gapplegate Music Review article of November 19, 2010 for that). Now it is time to turn to the new CD at hand, Meltzer’s Variations on a Summer Day & Piano Quartet (open g records).
The liner notes to the album sum up the composer’s recent development. Andrew Waggoner makes note of Meltzer’s 2007-08 Brion (on the Naxos release I reviewed, see above) as the culmination of the influence of Stravinsky and Donatoni. The later works heard here, Waggoner continues, move in a more individual direction at the same time as they tip the hat to the Pastoral American composers of the ’30s and ’40s of last century, and also make a connection with Copland’s beautiful “Piano Variations” and too his “Piano Quartet.”
All this does not contradict what I hear in this music. I must admit I am not so familiar with Donatoni. Nevertheless I hear the other influences mentioned without there being a derivation. These works bask in their originality at the same time as they offer a lively, lyrical and cogently Neo-Pastoral way ahead if you will.
Both works are substantial and have a winning aura about them. The “Piano Quartet” has none of the heavy romantic Germanicism of Pre-Modern chamber music. It is agile and light of foot, with lots of unexpected twists and lovely turns within a forward momentum.
“Variations on a Summer Day” brings in a central solo soprano part interpreted sturdily by Abigail Fischer. It all glows with a lazy summer sun ahead and the nine-piece chamber mini-orchestra scores with some truly special notefull-orchestrational tone paintings.
There is, then, some very welcome breeze freshening– there is a refreshing and beautifully Modern music lyricism on display in this album. Harold Meltzer is a phenomenon. The disk shows us how that is! Wonderful.