Chamber music sometimes seems to have a stronger set of traditions than other genres, and for that reason alone this release by the American small (20-player) orchestra A Far Cry is worth hearing: it's a genuinely innovative release in the chamber genre. The title Visions and Variations suggests the contents well enough: all three of the works involved are variation sets, but only one, the Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, is presented as written. The performance of that work by A Far Cry, both lush and precise, serves notice of strong ensemble playing throughout. The other two works, though, are modified from their original forms, in one case doubly so, and it is definitely a case where your mileage may vary. Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman: a folktale for 18 players based on characters created by W.A. Mozart (an all-instrumental work) is based on Mozart's 12 Variations for piano on Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman, K. 265, featuring the tune better known in English-speaking lands as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." The work is a composition by Ethan Wood, diverging substantially from Mozart and throwing in a panoply of musical allusions, humorous changes in harmony, and more. The final work is something else again: Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives, Op. 22, were written for piano and arranged for strings by Rudolf Barshai. The work consists of 20 short variation-like movements, most of which are played as in Barshai's arrangement. But five of the movements are arranged instead by members of the group themselves. The overall effect with both this work and the Mozart is to offer variations on variations, to destabilize the musical text. Sample one of the non-Barshai Prokofiev movements, perhaps the Pittoresco-Arpe, for an idea. The sound, from Worcester, Massachusetts' otherwise promising Mechanics Hall is too close up, with extraneous noise suggesting the hissing of a steam vent. This release earned a 2018 Grammy award nomination for Best Chamber Music Performance.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge|
Ah! Vous dirais-je, Maman: a folktale for 18 players based on characters created by W.A. Mozart: Theme and 12 Variations
|Visions Fugitives, Op. 22|