Saturday, December 28, 2013

Rick Stout, Christina Dahl. Decreasing Radius

Rick Stout, Christina Dahl.  Decreasing Radius.
Albany Records, 2012.   

Here we have an album of fantasias for trombone and piano, ranging in time from the mid-19th century to just about now.  To some, this is rarefied chamber music and the inclusion of modern works suggest that there be dragons here.  Relax.  All the works are richly tonal with relatively few jagged edges but plenty of fascinating soundscapes.  If they were otherwise I would have gotten someone else to review it.

Both of these musicians are busy folks.  Stout is a trombonist with the Cleveland Orchestra, and a faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music.  Dahl is Associate Professor of Piano, Chamber Music, and Piano Pedagogy at Stony Brook University, and Director of the Stony Brook Chamber Music Society.  I could list more credentials, but the one I find most fascinating is that they are married, which could be why this recording came about.  This is their first one together.

Stout has returned to the trombone after serious injury sidelined him for several years.  You’d never know it from the delicious playing displayed here.  The first major piece, Schumann’s Phantasiestücke, a three-movement work, was written for piano and another instrument, usually violin, cello, or clarinet.  Here, they’ve given more equal weight to both instruments but otherwise not changed it much.  I found the result very enjoyable, delicately played and intimate.  Paul Creston’s piece is the other major one, a concerto for trombone and orchestra partially transcribed for piano.  Dahl works hard in this 13-minute single movement showpiece replacing the orchestra, but Stout still gets much of the glory with lovely melodic lines and lingering notes.  They have to switch gears several times but do so admirably.

Roger Boutry’s four-movement work is the longest on the album.  It is complex, with significant mood swings in the short sections, and I’m still trying to figure out how it all fits together.  However, each movement is likeable and well-played.  The other three works are all relatively short, but are quite different.  Caleb Burhan’s piece, last on the program, was commissioned by Stout and Dahl.  Dahl’s booklet notes suggest references to the Bulgarian Voices (I sort of hear that) and Radiohead (I don’t).  Regardless, it is a very pretty piece and a good closer to the album.  The work by Stojowski is late romantic in style.  I’ve heard his piano concertos before but never his chamber works.  Dahl gets to show off a bit here, and her playing is lovely.  Elizabeth Raum’s contemporary piece is neither the newest nor the shortest work here, but it feels to me like the most intense and focused one.  I found it perhaps the work I liked best on the album.  

I’ll leave some mystery about the album title, explained by Stout in the notes.  The photo of him with his trombone and motorcycle next to the Creston, Ohio water tower is a hoot.  This is a must-hear for fans of trombone, but folks who think it’s not also about the piano are in for a surprise.

Personnel:  Rick Stout (trombone), Christina Dahl (piano).
Tracks:  Phantasiestücke, Op. 73 (Robert Schumann); Fantasy for Trombone and Piano in E Major, Op. 27 (Sigismund Stojowski); Fantasia (Roger Boutry); Fantasy for Trombone (Elizabeth Raum); Fantasy (Paul Creston); Phantasie (Caleb Burhans).

Jeff Wanser

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