Russian romanticism and American triumphalism merge in the passionate, exciting first movement (“To One’s Self”) of Lucas Richman’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer give a bright, muscular account of this appealing music, whose aggressive tempos and friendly tonalities suggest a concerto with a typical classical structure.
The second movement (“To One’s World”) counter expectations, beginning with a peaceful piano cadenza but exploding into angular jazzy and ragtime colors, not at all the standard quiet center. A wind chorale and a gently flowing violin melody set a contemplative mood for the final movement (“To One’s Spirit”). The orchestra picks up the violin theme, the piano supports it with soft arpeggios, the music swells, the brass takes up the theme, and all is resolved in a huge major chord halfway through that suggests an optimistic forecast for “one’s spirit.” The densely textured final section thunders to a movie-score climax before ending with a hopeful sigh from the piano and a final Broadway-style orchestral flourish.
The whole work is built around the idea of “truth” and the conflict between “abiding by society’s universal ‘truths’ and railing against those who create new ‘truths’ so as to avoid personal culpability.” Sound like anyone you’ve read about in the news lately – on any day of the week? But with its dedication to “self,” “world,” and “spirit” the whole conception has a meditative rather than an ideological flavor. While reading of the thoughts that inspired this accessible and often quite lovely concerto may add a dimension to one’s listening, it’s by no means necessary. I’m tempted to say Richman writes for the masses, in the best sense of the phrase.
For Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra: The Clearing, Richman took inspiration from Psalm 23 and skillfully programmed a single-movement progression through life’s trials (“the valley of the shadow of death”) to a symbolic “clearing” of understanding and acceptance. I couldn’t help thinking of the protagonist as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz rather than a biblical or Pilgrim’s Progress figure – except those stories don’t end in a celebratory dance, certainly not one in 7/8 time. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s principal oboe Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida gives a convincing account of the story, beginning with the ruminative and slowly darkening introduction of subtle dissonances and romantic interludes.
Blaring brass note-clusters usher in rumbling passages in a section representing the “onslaught of earthly reality,” after which the soloist/protagonist arrives at the titular “clearing” for a pastoral prayer of sorts. Here, as throughout, there’s an assured melodic confidence in the solo lines. The whole album was recorded live in concert, and there’s also a thrilling spaciousness to the sound.
The cinematic Three Pieces for Cello and Orchestra features cellist Inbal Segev (whose new album of Bach’s Cello Suites we are highlighting here and here). The first of this trio of brief, related pieces, “Declaration,” boasts boiling interplay between soloist and strings as one main theme recapitulates throughout.
The second piece, “Prayer,” suggests a melancholy Jewish air with a related, more inspirational major-key theme at its center. Both it and the racing third piece, “Freylach” (Yiddish for “festive”) with its klezmer dance, debuted appropriately with the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony in 1999, while the Israel-born Segev was the soloist for the 2013 premiere of the three pieces as a set.
On this album of accessible and enjoyable modern classical music, the cello pieces are the least challenging to the ear – perhaps the least mature as compositions – but as appealing and well played as the rest of the selections. In Truth comes out September 1 and is available online at the Amazon link below.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B013EOLRNM][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B013R4QE3M][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00005CDRD][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0001XAORA]