Classical Music Review: New Releases

Walter Winslow - Concertati Veneziani & other works.  Concertati Veneziani1; A Voice from Elysium2; Mirror of Diana3; Six Paripari4. 1Curtis Macomber, violin; 1Linda Quan, violin; 1Nancy Wilson, violin; 1Mark Zaki, violin; 1Lois Martin, viola; 1,2Charles Forbes, cello; 2Eleanor Clark, soprano; 2The New York Camerata, vocals; 2Jayn Rosenfeld, flute; 2Diane Bruce Sinclair, violin; 2Meg Bachman Vas, piano; 3Jean Kopperud, clarinet; 4Margaret Anne Butterfield, soprano; 4Paul Hofreiter, piano.  CRI CD 842 (66'23).

Walter Winslow (1947-1998) was born in Salem, Oregon and studied at the University of California at Berkeley with Edward Dugger, Andrew Imbrie and Olly Wilson.  He taught composition at Berkeley, the Oberlin College and Conservatory (where he had done his undergraduate work), Reed College, and Columbia University.  His last position was as a teacher of piano at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.

The works collected on this disk stem from the final years of his life and reveal an interest in the classical world as well as the music and poetry of Tahitian and other Pacific cultures.  This latter strain is represented by the Six Paripari for soprano (1995).  The texts for these pieces come from Tahitian sources, but, except for the exotic place names, they could be translations from the German Romantic poetry that Schubert enjoyed setting.  For the most part, Winslow allows the cadences of the Tahitian language to dominate the piece.  The accompaniment is spare and percussive, acting as a counterpoint to the vocal melody and subtly underscoring the text's meaning. Mirror of Diana (1991), a work for solo clarinet, refers to a lake in the Alban hills which was a seat of the goddess' priesthood.  Quiet, meditative passages alternate with louder, more sharply characterized sections, a reflection of, in Winslow's words, "an isolated place of striking beauty with overtones of mystery and violence."

In 1994 Winslow was diagnosed with cancer, an event that seems to have inspired the remaining two works on this disk. A Voice from Elysium (1995) uses as its text an inscription from an ancient Roman tomb.  A woman, Homonoea, who died young advises her husband Atimetus to leave off grieving, "Your tears avail naught nor can the fates be moved."  As in the paripari, Winslow is always sensitive to the text.  He writes, "Atimetus's is the world of the living, full of turmoil, and it is characterized by musical textures which are densely chromatic and frequently harsh.  Interestingly, the world beyond the grave has music which is largely diatonic, and keeps circling about one chord."  Yet this division is not strict and Winslow brings out the ambiguity between these two worlds by having the soprano sing both roles.

Winslow's last completed work, Concertati Veneziani (1998), is a masterpiece.  The sextet is scored for four violins, viola and cello with the violins usually playing in pairs, giving the work the feel of a string quartet.  "I felt a need to honor the musical tradition which has made my life rich beyond measure.  Thus the need to sum up, the need to speak in a somewhat broader language....  All this occurs in a musical language that treats tonality (diatonic and chromatic), modality, atonality and dodecaphony as if they were all inhabitants of the same universe."   It's enough to say that Winslow succeeds in achieving this goal.  The sense of the past pervades the music, but the sextet never falls into the trap of becoming a pastiche.  The work ends in a chorale of sublime beauty evocative of Palestrina and late Beethoven.

The disk was recorded over a three-day period but the players betray no unfamilarity with this music.  The performances are splendid.

Tony Gualtieri

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