Aaron Jay Kernis

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Aaron Jay Kernis
LABELS: Argo
WORKS: Colored Field; Still Movement with Hymn
PERFORMER: Julie Ann Giacobassi (cor anglais), Pamela Frank (violin), Paul Neubauer (viola), Carter Brey (cello), Christopher O’Riley (piano); San Francisco Symphony/Alasdair Neale
CATALOGUE NO: 448 174-2
Be prepared for seventy minutes of seriously unsettling music, a sizeable chunk even by the standards of a century that’s produced its fair share of lugubrious art. Kernis, a composer who rode the tide of minimalism and pop styles in the Eighties, here finds his emotional roots – in Colored Field especially. Behind the innocence of the title is the painful irony of the composer’s experience of Auschwitz. And from the inspiration of the harsh truths it imparts flows this ambitious concerto for cor anglais, seeking to question the whole current of the world’s evil.

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You hear its protest in the pastoral-elegy of the first movement, Julie Ann Giacobassi’s solo cor anglais a wanderer between strings set stereophonically on either side of the stage. You hear its desperation in the ‘Pandora Dance’ scherzo, the shifting dance patterns of Bernstein set beside a musical evocation of evil akin to the scherzo of Prokofiev’s Third Symphony. In ‘Hymns and Tablets’, the third movement, a Kaddish takes us to a position of qualified optimism, but no more. As in Still Movement with Hymn, which is haunted by memories of Bosnia and the untimely death of fellow composer Stephen Albert, no answer to the questions is forthcoming, just a strength to carry on. Nicholas Williams