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Rick Sowash . . . Eroica
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Eroica CD cover

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 Ortwein, bn.

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.

Mark Lehman

 

   
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.
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