Jon Deak: Symphonic Tales. © 2019 Naxos Rights US Inc

CD Spotlight

Quite Unusual

Orchestral storytelling by Jon Deak,
heard by GEOFF PEARCE

'The performances here are very good, the music colourful and inventive, and I can imagine that this disc may appeal more to people with children than to adult listeners.'

 

To be perfectly honest, this quite unusual disc did not really appeal to me. John Deak (born 1943) is well-known in the US, firstly as Associate Principal Double Bass Player with the New York Philharmonic for many years, and also as a music educator. He has done fantastic work with young musicians and children, and was the founder of an initiative called VYC - Very Young Composers. He is also keenly interested in the environment, and many of his compositions, including the first offering on this disc, seek to raise environmental awareness.

B B Wolf (An Apologia) (1982) is scored for narrator and double bass, with John Deak performing both roles here, and doing it very well. This is a humourous work with a serious message. I don't really get American humour, but I am sure this music would resonate with many, especially children. There is some very difficult work for bass here, employing advanced techniques, and revealing what a fine bassist Jon Deak is. There are many literary and musical references, as well as wolf howling noises.

Listen — Jon Deak: B B Wolf (An Apologia)
(track 1, 2:57-3:55) © 2019 Naxos Rights US Inc :

Bye-Bye! (1987), for flute and piano, features Julia Bogorad-Kogan and Julia Lynn Stillmen respectively. Both artists take turns at the narration, and sometimes narrate together, which would make it particularly demanding for the flautist. A tribute to the immigrants of America, this work is both light-hearted and serious at the same time. A considerable number of modern techniques are asked of the flautist. Both performers here are very good. This effective work contains a lot of musical references and employs complex rhythms. For me, at least, this is the most effective piece on the disc.

Listen — Jon Deak: Bye-Bye!
(track 2, 3:54-4:52) © 2019 Naxos Rights US Inc :

The Snow Queen Finale: The Ice Palace (1991) depicts 'The Snow Queen' of Hans Christian Andersen's immortal story, and this work tells the final part of the seventh tale. The voice of Gerda is represented by Pamela Goldsmith's excellent solo viola, and Marin Alsop narrates and also conducts the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra. The orchestral forces are required to play with considerable virtuosity and also produce extra sounds and employ modes of playing that produce strange sounds to accompany this fantastic tale. The music paints a picture seen through a child's wide-eyed wonder, and with a child's imagination. It creates a feel of heightened emotion, sometimes terror, and it would appeal to many young listeners and older ones alike. The orchestra responds magnificently to the demands placed upon it, and Marin Alsop revels in her role as a dramatic narrator.

Listen — Jon Deak: The Snow Queen Finale: The Ice Palace
(track 3, 5:55-6:47) © 2019 Naxos Rights US Inc :

The Legend of Spuyten Duyvil (1991) tells the tale of Anthony van Corlaer, a celebrated trumpeter with the Dutch garrison on Manhattan Island about 350 years ago, in the days of Peter Stuyvesant. It features full orchestra and trumpet obbligato, here played by the fine trumpeter Chris Gekker. Again Marin Alsop both conducts and acts as narrator. This would be a hard score to bring off, as the orchestral writing demands much skill, both in the use of standard technique, but also some of the advanced effects. The players also have to provide vocal effects. The work depicts a struggle between between the trumpeter and the devil, but also between the Dutch colonialists and the British. The trumpeter was known to have almost supernatural powers in playing his instrument. Manhattan Island was at that time a Dutch Colony, and it was thought that Corlaer's trumpet playing would dispel any English force that might want to take the island, and would even scare the devil away.

An 1858 oil-on-canvas painting of Anthony van Corlaer by American portrait painter Charles Loring Elliott (1812-1868)
An 1858 oil-on-canvas painting of Anthony van Corlaer by
American portrait painter Charles Loring Elliott (1812-1868)

There are many musical references, and special effects, and the piece makes very interesting listening.

Listen — Jon Deak: The Legend of Spuyten Duyvil
(track 4, 11:21-12:16) © 2019 Naxos Rights US Inc :

The performances here are very good, the music colourful and inventive, and I can imagine that this disc may appeal more to people with children than to adult listeners.

Copyright © 4 August 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia

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CD INFORMATION: JON DEAK: SYMPHONIC TALES

 

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