Eclectic meets exotic
Dean R. Brierly | Studio City, CA | 08/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Taliban Dances," a 2007 concerto for violin and orchestra by composer Robert Ian Winstin, is featured on a new CD that's sure to pique the interest of classical music buyers, if only for its attention-grabbing title and cover image of a woman's eyes peering out from behind a face veil. The music itself, however, is also worthy of attention. It's an ambitious attempt to marry Eastern and Western musical forms in a work that, according to the liner notes, is meant to address the tragedy and futility of war. The political context isn't specified, although the title invites speculation. Winstin's integration of Arabic scales and rhythms and Western harmonics can be read as a kind of musical détente, and/or a plea for greater understanding between cultures. The piece is most effective in its slower, more plaintive sections, in which the Eastern musical aesthetic predominates. There's real beauty and sadness in the "Call to Prayer" and "Lullaby" movements that vividly evoke the textures of the Middle East. The Western elements don't always mesh well to my ear, though, and remind me somewhat of soundtracks to 1960s films set in exotic Arabic countries. For me, the weakest movement is the "Baghdad Bossa Nova," which is sandwiched in the middle of the concerto. Its use of slide whistle and bursting balloons is meant to call attention to the absurdity of war, but instead sounds forced and overly conceptual. The accompanying pieces on this disc further attest to Winstin's eclecticism. "Three Pieces for Piano" is a spirited and virtuosic exploration of the sonata form. The three movements contrast brash, angular rhythms with introspective lyricism to telling effect. The playful "Piano Attacks" manifests even more aggressive experimentation within its extremely short (1:35!) running time. Normandy, June 6, 1944" is a somber musical salute written for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that features a surprisingly effective use of the military trumpet theme "Taps" set against a cresting orchestral accompaniment. Bringing the disc to a close is "Le voyage dans la lune," a short opening title Winstin composed for the re-release of Georges Melies' silent film classic. This terse but highly evocative piece makes good use of martial drum figures and somewhat ominous harmonic patterns. All in all, this is an intriguing, if imperfect, new release that bears repeated listening."
Excellent primer for Winstin's talents
Tym S. | San Francisco, CA USA | 09/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This set is an excellent primer to pianist/ composer Winstin. The five selections showcase the breadth of his styles and scope of his passions.
Winstin combines his virtuosity with puckish humor often. The title set, "Taliban Dances", is true to its oxymoronic title, underlining war and conflict with absurdism and synthesis. Galyna Hornostai bookends the suite playing violin lullabies invoking peace and prayer with exquisite dexterity and nimble spirit. Between, eastern and western idioms spring forward, clash, and merge. An upbeat and moving melodicism drives the pieces. The third movement is breath of fun, wedding eastern scales to the sexy sway of bossa nova, while descending flutes and popping ballons mock the futility of bombs.
"Three Piano Pieces" are early works highlighting his solo prowess. The first piece is an askew waltz that grows contemplative; the second a lovely melody of twining scales played impossibly between switching hands; and the third, in the Prokofiev vein, at times sounds like cuban piano abstracted into cubism.
"Normandy: June 6, 1944" is a complex condensation of the events of that pivotal shore landing, in sound waves, led by a "Taps"-style horn while the music behind it begins remembering itself by descending backward through the arrangement. "Piano Attacks" are literal blasts of piano techniques stocatto-ed in 90 seconds!'
The surprise dessert is "La Voyage Dans La Lune", for the 100th anniversary of the first Science Fiction film (A Trip To The Moon, 1902). Its crash of sprinting drums and off-kilter horns is enthralling and powerful, while moments of beauty snake throughout. Fantastic!"
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan...
Jim Shine | Dublin, Ireland | 09/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Robert Ian Winstin has, according to his web site, written over 200 works, but he's a new name to me and, I suspect, many other potential listeners (he's not on Wikipedia, for example). He's won various awards and currently holds several positions, including composer in residence and guest conductor of the Kiev Philharmonic (whose building is on Wikipedia!). Is his music worth getting to know? Certainly, if you like music that's tuneful and witty, and not especially demanding on the ears. The main work here is Taliban Dances, a violin concerto that, as the sleeve notes put it, "speaks of the sadness and misery of war and loss for all". If this indeed was Winstin's intention then to my ears he's failed dismally: this music, which has a Middle Eastern feel but is projected through a Western lens, is a lot of fun. Yes, there are a couple of slow movements that have tenderness and beauty in them, but Winstin seems to favour the absurd rather than the tragic aspect of the work's oxymoronic title. Perhaps Taliban Dances is too much fun, even. Is it too soon after events to call a movement "Baghdad Bossa Nova" and use a slide whistle and popping balloons to depict falling bombs? This struck me at first as a bit tacky - and yet the bossa nova aspect is fun. And what are we to make of the final movement, where the medieval Dies Irae collides with Dixie? If this makes Winstin sound like Charles Ives, he's not, at least not in terms of the complexity of his music, but if the notion intrigues you, check the disc out. There are four other (shorter) works on the album, but I don't think any of them constitutes enough of a selling point on its own. The Three Pieces for Piano are short and tricky, while Piano Attacks is shorter and trickier; both sets are full of vim, as played by the composer. There are also two orchestral works. The Normandy piece was written for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings and is one of those Copland-via-John Williams noble-and-moving pieces that World War II continues to inspire. The last piece on the disc is actually the one I enjoyed most, a 2-minute prelude written for a rerelease of Georges Melies' classic 1902 film Le Voyage Dans La Lune. It doesn't strike me as especially evocative of the film, but it's a gloriously over-the-top piece of lunacy (with the Dies Irae, again). As elsewhere on the disc, the Kiev Philharmonic sound like they're enjoying themselves. It's a good-sounding album, too. Recommended for sheer entertainment value."