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Tuesday, June 06, 2006
David Bennett Thomas: Chamber Works

David Bennett Thomas: Chamber Works

David Bennett Thomas
The New Carillon Ensemble; The Temple New Music Trio
Capstone Records CPS-8754

The eclectic compositions on David Bennett Thomas: Chamber Works demand and reward repeated listening. The Pennsylvania-based composerís singular musical language germinates and takes root in the listenerís memory; the six works included on the disc are impeccably sequenced, so that no timbre wears out its welcome.

Thomas endows his music with clear conceptual features. From the Allegro con brio that opens the Piano Sonata #2, one immediately senses the appreciation for continuous motion that characterizes his rhythmic concept. Taking a distinctly American approach to the piano sonata, the piece showcases pianist Matthew Bengston, who navigates the swift chromatic lines of the Presto movement with masterful precision.

The Emily Dickinson poem that inspired Steeples in My Soul: Movements for Alto Flute could have been interpreted with full orchestral bombast, but Thomas wisely economizes; in the hands of performer Carla Rees, the alto flute matches the poetís ability to convey a spectrum of emotions with one voice. The arch form of Sonata for Cello Solo allows Jeffrey Solow to demonstrate the instrumentís wide range of possibilities, alternating between ominous arco and springing pizzicato sections.

For Blake Songs, Thomas turns his literary eye to William Blakeís Songs of Innocence. No longer juxtaposed with the Songs of Experience, the verses lose the irony of their original context, resulting in a face-value portrayal of idealized childhood. ďA DreamĒ contains an exquisite wordless refrain that perfectly befits its title, while ďThe Lamb / Infant JoyĒ employs a sturdy, insistent piano groove, betraying Thomasís double life as a jazz pianist.

Though more complex musically than Blake Songs, the Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano lacks none of its predecessorís accessibility. The piece, written in memory of Aaron Copland, is an intriguing blend of driving rhythms and chromatic exploration; the fiery Molto vivace is the densest two minutes of music on the collection.

Offsetting the carefree optimism of the Blake poems, the composer tackles Shakespeare with Juliet. Taking Baz Luhrmannís 1997 film Romeo + Juliet as a point of departure, Thomas limits the text of his cantata to passages delivered only by the female protagonist. Evocatively accompanied by Thomas Schmidt on the organ, soprano Mary Elizabeth Poore issues an impassioned interpretation of Julietís words. Laura Frautschiís violin stands in for Romeo, countering the sung text with elegance of equal measure. Each song is framed with lovely instrumental sections; the final movement adds bells, whose resonant tones signal the taleís tragic conclusion in an appropriately haunting fashion. Juliet carries the grand scope and considerable emotion of larger-scale works, a rare accomplishment in chamber music.

While each composition is self-contained, in its entirety Chamber Works provides a varied representation of David Bennett Thomasí growing repertoire. The disc demonstrates that the composer is capable of writing music that satisfies on both a purely musical level as well as a dramatic one.


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