Beneath the Tide - A Collection of Concertos. © 2019 Navona Records LLC

CD Spotlight

An Emotional Journey?

GEOFF PEARCE listens to music
for solo instruments and orchestra

'The performance is very tight and exciting.'


This interesting CD contains three concertos and two smaller pieces featuring a solo instrument with orchestra - here the Croatian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Miran Vautopić. These works are supposed to form an emotional journey exploring the souls of the composers. This is very subjective, and, I think, a hard thing to judge, and in some cases is possibly more of an advertising ploy.

The first work is a clarinet concerto by Michael Cunningham (born 1937). The online programme notes do not tell me anything about the emotional journey the composer is going through. Soloist Bruno Phillip is a fine clarinettist, and the composer writes an effective score for orchestra. The music is somewhat bleak and brooding, and at other times restless. There is much of interest in its three contrasting movements. The first movement, 'Dithyramb', an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced to venerate Dionysus, has a variety of moods from the ecstatic to the more thoughtful. The performance is very tight and exciting.

Listen — Michael G Cunningham: Dithyramb (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 1, 2:41-3:22) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

'Lithe' is slower and more subdued, and the orchestral forces reflect this, whilst the rhapsodic clarinet moves over the top of the rather plodding chords. The writing gradually ascends from the lower registers as the work progresses, and the clarinet becomes much more florid about half way through this movement before subsiding gently away.

Listen — Michael G Cunningham: Lithe (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 2, 2:40-3:17) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

The last movement, 'Charivari', is a mock discordant procession of folk origin, also known as a 'Skimmington' in the UK. The writing here is brilliant and energetic, reflecting the character of the origins of this event well. A suppressed excitement subsides a little after the initial opening, only to build up as work progresses towards its conclusion. This quirky, sometimes grotesque and very interesting work is my favourite on this disc.

Listen — Michael G Cunningham: Charivari (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 3, 3:57-4:44) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

In Passages by Rain Worthington, featuring Mojca Ramušćak on violin, is characterised by emotions and thoughts which rise, complement each other and resolve (or not, as the case may be). The composer uses both soloist and string orchestra to great effect, evoking a mood that is often tender, and at times anxious and slightly disturbing. The writing is assured and I believe this work really does reflect an emotional journey. There are quite a lot of shifts of mood, which are sometimes connected to the preceding section, and at other times seem to just arise spontaneously. I feel that this work is more of a rhapsody than anything approaching a concerto in the traditional sense.

Listen — Rain Worthington: In Passages
(track 4, 6:45-7:32) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

The Guitar Concerto by Ssu-Yu Huang (Remembrance of Hometown) features soloist Pedro Ribeiro Rodrigues. In one movement, this is an evocation of some of the composer's feelings having newly arrived in another country, far away from her home town. It uses a popular southern Taiwanese tune to provide the motif. This is introduced by the fine guitarist on this recording and the work goes through many emotions over the course of its fifteen minutes, ranging from nostalgia and sense of loss, through at times hopelessness and despair, to more positive feelings when facing a new future. This work probably required the most effort, from me as a listener, to fully appreciate, but there is much to recommend it. There is some amazing writing, in both guitar and orchestra, of sounds evoking the countryside and traditional musical instruments, perhaps contrasted with a more urbanised busy place that the composer finds herself in.

Listen — Ssu-Yu Huang: Remembrance of Hometown
(track 5, 4:58-5:45) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

Lullaby by Bruce Reiprich celebrates the birth of a child - the new son of a violinist friend. Hence the violin is the solo instrument here. It reflects tenderness, joy and wonder, after a brief but weighty introduction. Goran Končar, the soloist on this recording, has a lovely warm and sympathetic sound which portrays this superbly.

Listen — Bruce Reiprich: Lullaby
(track 6, 2:08-2:40) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

The final work, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by Beth Mehocic, was originally conceived in 1974 as a student work, but the faculty where she was studying dismissed the work as being rather too traditional to be of any real interest, and it sat on the shelf for another forty-one years before being revised and in part reorchestrated by the composer for this recording. It features Charlene Farrugia as soloist, and is in three movements. This is my least favourite work here.

The first movement, ‘Moderato', opens with orchestra, and the soloist soon enters with a flourish. The solo part is certainly virtuosic, in the style of a concerto, but generally I did not particularly like this movement, finding it a bit clichéd at times, and the orchestral part was a bit too wind bandy and stodgy for my liking. I have heard it two or three times to see if my opinion changed, but unfortunately, I found myself becoming more and more irritated.

Listen — Beth Mehocic: Moderato (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra)
(track 7, 3:48-4:42) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

The second movement, 'Lento', opens with the piano in a style somewhat reminiscent of Debussy, until the orchestra enters, and then the effect is more of plainchant, with gentle broken chords on the piano. There are a few really beautiful and effective passages here, and generally I found this movement to be the strongest, although the ending somewhat spoils it.

Listen — Beth Mehocic: Lento (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra)
(track 8, 2:07-2:40) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

This moves straight into the last movement, which has life and movement, but again is a bit too wind bandy for my taste, especially with the percussion. I like some of the piano writing, however, and the pianist is fine. Sometimes I feel that there is just too much material here and not enough substance, and, like the first movement, too many clichés, but I am fully aware that music is a very subjective thing, and what I might dislike, other listeners may find enjoyable and inspirational.

Listen — Beth Mehocic: Allegretto (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra)
(track 9, 3:18-4:02) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

Certainly this was a very interesting disc, but for me probably not a keeper.

Copyright © 15 May 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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