Review of Rick Sowash's new CDs
from Fanfare Magazine, Sept./Oct., 2002
by Raymond Tuttle
CD: RICK SOWASH: PORTRAIT AT 50
Harvest Hymn and Harvest Dance: Homage to Willa Cather.' A Little Breakfast Music." The Cliffs Above the Clear Fork." Une Pavane americaine: hommage a` Ravel. Cape May Suite. Terry King (vc);'," John Jensen (pn);'," Phil Amalong (pn); West End Chamber Ens;" Barb Sink (fl) Private label, no number (66:42)
The second CD, titled A Portrait at 50, contains older music, written between '76 and '93. Here, although the waters are well charted, they are even fresher than on the first CD, and this is very much my favorite of the pair. Two of the works, Harvest Hymn and Harvest Dance and The Cliffs above the Clear Fork, are scored for cello and piano; both were written in 1980. In the former work, Sowash describes both the hymn and the dance (in 7/8 time!) as "stylized," much as Cather's prose itself stylizes the events that it describes. The latter work is a musical landscape; the Clear Fork is a branch of the Mohican River, and Bellville, Ohio, the composer's former home, overlooks it. Here, Sowash has written music that is pastoral in a manner reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, and also has shown his affinity for French Impressionism.
A Little Breakfast Music ('76) cocks a snook at Mozart, of course (this is music for "the morning after"), and at various aspects of the composer's French and American heritage. This is a meal in five courses: "Orange Juice," "French Toast," "Eggs and Bacon," "Honey on English Muffins," and "A Variety of Herb Teas." The scoring is for oboe, clarinet, and two violins. At times the music is artlessly melodic, and at other times pert and smart-mouthed; surely Poulenc and Francaix, both mentioned in Sowash's booklet note, would have approved.
Sowash's French heritage is evoked again in Une Pavane Americaine: homage a` Ravel ('90). Scored for flute and piano, the composer claims it borrows its structure from Ravel's more famous Pavane for a Dead Princess, although a brief climax halfway through the work is very unlike Ravel. Otherwise, the music is grave and noble -- sad, but not maudlin.
Cape May is on the New Jersey shore, and for Sowash, a favorite resort location. The Cape May Suite ('93) consists of "Morning at Seaside," "Victorian Garden," "Dinner at Louisa's," and "Ghostly Waltzes at Congress Hall." It is scored for oboe, violin, cello, and piano. This suite has the feel, much to its benefit, of picture postcards -- not the new ones (which often seem soulless to me), but those that one could purchase in the 1950s and earlier. The Cape May Suite is enjoyably "schmaltzy" and a truly affectionate example of the composer's regionalist tendencies.
I assume that the performances on these two CDs have the composer's fullest
approval. At any rate, there's little to criticize: Technically, everyone's work is solid, and the musicians seem attuned to what Sowash is trying to communicate. The engineering on both CDs is excellent.