Peter Dickinson
January 1, 2010

This is a fine tribute from the highly acclaimed Boston Modern Orchestra Project to 30 years of Elliott Schwartz’s idiosyncratic output. Each of the six chamber concertos, four in first recordings, features a single soloist in a continuity ranging from monologue to free-ranging superimposed textures. Schwartz describes his technique as “different strategies for dealing with the ‘concerto’ principle—six variations, not on a theme, but on a genre.” An essential part of his idiom is quotation from older styles, actual or implied but often unobtrusive. These tonal implants give a depth and resonance to a completely personal musical discourse.

A memorable example is the piano concerto, which draws on Vaughan Williams, a longstanding interest of Schwartz, whose book on the symphonies came out in 1964. At times the texture is hectic but there are regular appearances of scraps of modal melody and familiar chords. Schwartz is drawing on his long perspective with VW to produce a fascinating piece full of intriguing moments.

It ought to sound like Ives but rarely does, except briefly in the last section of the violin concerto based on the life of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the U.S. and an amateur violinist. The clarinet concerto concludes with wistful tonal passages evoking Brahms and Mahler; the bassoon concerto was written for the late William Waterhouse and this revised version is subtitled “Water Music” in his memory.

The CD is well produced with generous notes and attractive cover art from Dorothy Schwartz.

- Peter Dickinson

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