Listener-friendly, and rewarding on closer listening
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 04/23/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Composer William Wallace (1923-), whose music is on this CD, is not to be confused with Irish composer William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865, composer of the once-popular opera "Maritana") or Scottish composer William Wallace (1860-1940, composer of a tone poem about that OTHER William Wallace, the Scottish hero protrayed by Mel Gibson in "Braveheart"). He's an American, born in Utah, who has been for many years a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He composes in a very conservative, tonal style that is charming, skilful and memorable.The featured work on this disc is the Second Piano Concerto with Ukrainian pianist Olga Dudnik accompanied by Kirk Trevor conducting the Slovak Radio Orchestra. Unusually, the piece starts with a fugue on a sprightly 4/4 theme following which the piano enters in a jazzy 5/8; the rest of the movement is in that slightly three-legged meter. There is a wistfully lyrical middle movement that is then superseded by the final movement which returns to the materials of the first movement, leading to a brisk and optimistic conclusion. Ms Dudnik's playing is brilliant and rhythmically alert, and she is given solid support by Trevor and his players. The musical language Wallace employs reminds one of such conservative American piano concerti as those of Robert Ward, Gian Carlo Menotti, Lee Hoiby, or of the more recent efforts by Lowell Liebermann.One feature of Wallace's music is its use of baroque forms clothed in high Romantic harmonies. The Dance Suite consists of an Allemande, Courante, Minuet and Tarantella. I suspect the latter two dance forms have rarely, if ever, appeared in a neo-baroque suite before, but they fit in nicely.The Symphonic Variations is actually a passacaglia whose musical forefather was undoubtedly the masterful final movement of Brahms's Fourth Symphony, and late in this 10-minute piece there is actually a quotation of Brahms's passacaglia melody.Giga! (note the exclamation point) is an energetic baroque jig that sounds Irish. Its bustling busyness is over almost before it's begun. Introduction and Passacaglia, we're told, is Wallace's most-played work. Here it is played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Boris Brott, long a fixture on the Canadian music scene. It opens with a ceremonial Introduction that leads to a Passacaglia that not only uses the baroque form but sounds baroque as well. Its ground-bass bears a close resemblance to the passage from Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" sung to the words "and he shall live forever, and ever." The final section combines the themes of the Introduction and the Passacaglia and brings the whole to a rousing finish in a flurry of brass and percussion.The disc concludes with Epilogue for String Orchestra played by the Warsaw Chamber Orchestra conducted by Marek Sewen. This piece was originally a movement of a string quartet. Its five minutes are given over to hushed and lyrical musing.I had never heard a note of Wallace's music before. My first time through I was tempted to be dismissive because it all went down too easily, leading me to think there wasn't much substance to it. But on subsequent listenings I've discovered more and more hidden treasures, surely one of the attributes of good music. So, if tonally conservative neoclassic music is your delight, the music of William Wallace on this CD will reward your attention.Scott Morrison"