Leshnoff: Chamber Music / Carpe Diem Quartet, Opus 3 Trio

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Jonathan Leshnoff is one of the most exciting voices in contemporary American music, and his lyricism is accompanied by vibrant expressive qualities. The String Quartet...

Jonathan Leshnoff is one of the most exciting voices in contemporary American music, and his lyricism is accompanied by vibrant expressive qualities. The String Quartet No. 2 reflects the personal qualities of those who commissioned it with originality and vitality, Leshnoff embracing both mystery and Klezmer-inspired writing. Seven Glances at a Mirage creates shifting perspectives and contrasted sonorities, whilst Cosmic Variations on a Haunted Theme alternates between hints of Bachian chorales and Bartók-inspired drama. …without a chance is a response to 9/11, where abrupt rhythms are movingly resolved.


Naxos is simply an amazing company. In its catalog that comprises some 6,000 titles, it evidences an outstanding track record of issuing worthwhile new American music, a prime example of which is found in the CD under review. The efforts of this company hardly are limited to American music though, and seemingly extend to each country with any kind of a tradition of what we call classical music. When I was last in Denmark, for instance, I visited a few CD shops and saw any number of Naxos recordings of Danish composers that I’d never seen in any CD shop in the U.S. So more power to this company, and others such as Bridge, New World, CRI, and Albany that are also doing a fabulous job in recording and promoting contemporary music.

Jonathan Leshnoff, the latest in quite a string of important composers whose music I’ve had the privilege of becoming acquainted with in my work as a Fanfare reviewer, is still young, having been born in 1973. His orchestral music has received numerous performances by major ensembles, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony, where he is currently serving as composer-in-residence. In an interview with David Peironnet in Kansas City, Leshnoff stated that he seeks “to bring some centricity to music. I write what I want to hear. A lot of people enjoy my orchestration and harmony. I want to connect with the audience so they enjoy my music, too.” This philosophy, along with his obvious compositional gifts, may explain why he has connected to audiences, critics, and performing musicians alike. His music is saturated with an energy that keeps the auditor on the edge of his seat.

This energy is manifest even in the slow movements of his Second String Quartet that opens the CD. The work was written to a commission from family and friends of a Baltimore couple to help celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. As such, it is filled with personal references to the couple, Dr. and Mrs. Robert Edelman. The gentle first movement includes the use of a theme that Dr. Edelman sings on Sabbath evenings, while the second movement portrays Mrs. Edelman’s warm and caring personality. The very busy and energetic finale captures the doctor’s “very positive attitude towards life.” Seven Glances at a Mirage for violin, clarinet, and piano opens with a dramatic gesture in all three instruments that quickly gives way to a pleading line in the clarinet, accompanied by fluttering and other gentle sonorities in the piano. The piece, composed for the Strata Trio in 2003, is generally based upon a short theme that rises a few steps and quickly falls back again. Its seven movements flow seamlessly from one to the next. The title is explained by the shifting in and out of focus of the theme—indeed the aural equivalent of a mirage. Clever stuff this, and a lot of fun to listen to.

Cosmic Variations on a Haunted Theme is a companion piece to its predecessor on the CD, being composed in the same year, and for another trio, the Opus 3 Trio. Like its discmate, it is assembled from small thematic motives, which are expanded and developed in various ways through its nine variations, all of which draw upon the rich palette of colors available in the piano trio medium. At more than 17 minutes, this is the most substantial work on the CD, although even after a careful listening, I’m not quite sure what makes the theme “haunted.”

The disc closes with one of what must be by now numerous works memorializing the 9/11 tragedy. …Without a chance, dating from 2002, is scored for percussion ensemble and was written for the United States Marine Band. Although the work evidences moments of darkness and tension, it is primarily intended by its composer as a tribute to the human spirit. It evokes the sound of bells and a chant-like theme before giving way to jagged rhythms with interjections from drums. At the end of the work, the tonality of A Major is summoned to lead the work to its dissipation into nothingness. The style of the work is somewhat different from that of the other works herein, but nevertheless recognizable as a work of the same composer, given its energy and rhythmic vitality, and contrasts in mood.

This CD succeeds brilliantly on every level, with committed performances and vivid sonics, both of which enhance the already stunning music. The disc will certainly be a contender for my next Want List.

-- FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 26, 2012

  • UPC: 636943972120

  • Catalog Number: 8559721

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Contemporary

  • Composer: Jonathan Leshnoff

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Carpe Diem String Quartet, Opus 3 Trio

  • Performer: Jerome Simas, Joshua Nemith, Stephen Miahky