from American Record Guide, May/June 2002
Rick Sowash "Eroica"
Sunny Days; Convivial Suite; Impressionist Suite #1; Piano
Trio #5: Eroica
Paul Patterson, Laura Bossert, v; Anthony Costa, Ron Aufmann,
cl; Mark Ostoich, ob; Phil Amalong, p; Terry King, vc; Mark
Three earlier CDs of Rick Sowash's chamber music -- two on
Gasparo, one (like this new arrival) self-published by the
Cincinnati-based composer himself -- earned David Moore's
enthusiastic recommendation (Nov/Dec 1992, Sept/Oct 2000).
I can see why. Sowash (born 1950) writes well-made, staunchly
tonal, and immensely likable music. It has a homespun freshness
that values (though doesn't always restrict itself to) simplicity
and directness, and an emotional warmth that welcomes optimisim
and affecting tenderness while dancing lightly above gloom
or irony. And there are ingratiating tunes aplenty, too --
some folksy, some jazzy, some tinged by a mild exoticism.
If a comparison would help describe Sowash's style, and in
particular its incorporation of vernacular elements into classical
structrues, I'd say he has a lot in common with another independent-minded
Midwesterner, Ernst Bacon (1898-1990), some of whose best
music is collected on CRI 779 (Jan/Feb 1999).
Like Bacon -- who wrote an exhilarating piano hoe-down called
The Pig-Town Fling -- Sowash fancies down-home nomenclature.
Sunny Days, for instance, is the title of his 1994 18-minute
long, four-movement trio for violin, clarinet and piano that
leads off this new anthology. I have to tell you that when
I put this disc on I'd never heard a note of Sowash's music,
but I (and my wife Sherri) instantly fell in love with this
captivating work, and I've been playing it every day for the
past two weeks. It starts off (after a 30-second slow intro)
with a bouncy, catchier-than-velcro tune in a sort of "gypsy
ragtime" mode, absolutely perfect for the clarinet, and
so cunningly scored and clevely harmonized with unexpected
chromatic turns that you just can't stop shuffling around
the room in time to it. There's a middle section with yet
another fine tune -- this one more infused with sentiment
-- then a return to the insinuating gypsy ragtime. II and
III are sweetly nostalgic slow movements, with long, sun-drenched
melodic arches in gently lilting rhythms -- lovely from beginning
to end. The finale returns to brisk tempos and merry tunefulness,
and here Sowash tops everything off with a grandly exuberant
folk-song (designated "The Fog" in the score) with
crackling "Scotch-snap" inflections and a touch
of modal harmony. How Sowash manages to get such a rich, almost
orchestral fullness and variety from his three instruments
at these climactic points is a marvel to hear.
I spend so much time on Sowash's trio because I think there
could really be an audience for this splendid "new"
music if only people have a chance to hear it -- especially
as presented here, in fine performances and vivid recorded
sound. If my description appeals to you, do yourself a favor
and seek out this disc; you won't regret it.
Three more works fill out the program. Convivial Suite is
a six-movement duo for violin and cello. There are a fugue
(it sounds a bit like a round on 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'),
a contrapuntal and faintly mysterious waltz (I love this),
a sighing blues, a march, an aria, and a finale. Everything
but the very short penultimate item is dance-like and tuneful.
The clean-lined but gentle Impressionist Suite #1is for oboe,
clarinet, and bassoon; its three movements -- more neoclassic
than Debussy-ish -- are inspired by Monet, Renoir and Manet.
Finally, there's Sowash's Fifth Piano Trio, called Eroica,
the biggest and by a margin the most romantic and tempestuous
work on the program. Here Sowash avoids clever chromatic turns
or rhythmic twists and instead pours out his heartfelt emotion
-- the trio is a tribute to, though it bravely refuses to
be an elegy for, his father's heroic struggle with fatal illness.
Crusty old cynic that I am, I was moved by this trio but perhaps
not entirely convinced by its re-creation of Victorian-era
nobility, which seems a little quaint to my jaded post-modern
ears. But perhaps that's just my loss.