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Posted January 11, 2012
I've long been a fan of the American Classics Series from Naxos. Over the years the series has helped to cement the reputations of great American composers, while bringing new names to the forefront. So I was excited to see the first disc in the Canadian Classics Series, complete with prominent red and white maple leaf flags. And, suitably, I'm writing this review on John A. Macdonald's birthday (he was our first Prime Minister), so you'll have to allow for a certain amount of patriotism while reading this review.
The three works on this disc were all composed by Jeffrey Ryan in the first decade of this century, and were recorded in 2008 and 2010 in Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre. In his orchestral showpiece The Linearity of Light, Ryan provides a challege to the virtuosity of the orchestra, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under conductor Bramwell Tovey pass with flying colours. The work comes with a program relating to the qualities and properties of light. It glitters and pulsates, and though it might seem at first superficial, it's actually quite emotional and left me strangely unsettled the first time I heard it. Subsequent listening confirms that this is more than just a piece to show off how fast or how loud an orchestra can play.
The Triple Concerto concept, taken up fairly regularly by composers in the past 200 years following Beethoven's model, creates some problems of balance for the composer, and I can imagine for recording engineers as well. Ryan's Triple Concerto, called Equilateral, gives equal weight not only to each of the soloists, but provides a balance between the piano trio and the orchestra. This creates an interesting concerto grosso texture, especially in the first movement Breathless, which is a standout, my favourite part of the disc. See the Wikipedia article on triple concertos for a list of works for piano trio & orchestra, by the way.
I know the Gryphon Trio well from their many fine chamber music recordings with Analekta. Each of the members gets his or her chance to shine: cellist Roman Borys and violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon in the 2nd movement Points of Contact, and pianist Jamie Parker in the last movement Serpentine.
The title work of the album, Fugitive Colours, is Ryan's First Symphony (though I see from the catalogue of works on his website he hasn't yet published a second.) This work also begins with visual concepts, but this time built on a symphonic frame. It's proof that the symphonic form still has plenty of life in this century.
I look forward to many, many more discs in this series, and I trust that the series will also include more from Jeffrey Ryan.