I have to admit I’d not heard of American composer Walter Saul before this CD
landed on my desk. I’m glad it did. Saul’s music has a directness to it that I
find refreshing. Saul writes in a post-tonal style that’s extremely accessible,
yet avoids triteness and cliche.
Case in point, Saul’s 1992 Christmas Symphony. This is no medley of holiday
tunes, but a tightly-organized four-movement symphony that uses oblique elements
of the Christmas story (Gabriel, the Star, Simeon, and heavenly Glorias) to
document an emotional journey. It’s one of those works that may be inspired by
the season, but could be played any time of the year.
“Overture for the Jubilee” and “From Life to Greater Life” – like virtually all
of Saul’s music –draw on the composer’s deep-seated religious convictions for
inspiration. The Overture is an uplifting, yet restrained, concert opener. “From
Life” moves from chaos to order as it progresses (thus illustrating its theme of
ascending from life to afterlife).
The Violin Concerto is the most adventurous work on the album, with a snarling
twelve-tone middle movement that resolves eventually into some beautiful lyrical
passages in the finale.
“Kiev 2014” is an engaging work for oboe and orchestra. Its relentless energy keeps driving the music forward. According to the composer, it “reflects on the
history, challenges and hope for Ukraine in the 21st century.” And that perhaps
explains the restless nature of this work.
The album is warmly recorded, with the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine under Theodore Kuchar delivering straight-forward no-nonsense performances.
Walter Saul: Kiev 2014; Violin Concerto; Overture for the Jubilee; A Christmas Symphony; Metamorphosis
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine; Theodore Kuchar, conductor
Rong-Huey Liu, oboe; James Buswell, violin; Walter Saul, piano