This collection of chamber works were each commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, and given their premieres at the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. The album takes its title from the final work on the program, Secret Alchemy, by Pierre Jalbert. However, it might apply to the entire program, which combines common elements (traditional late Romantic tonality, common chamber ensembles, classical forms of one kind or another) into pieces with varying effects. Perhaps the most effective is the opening Piano Quintet of Jalbert, whose movement titles all refer to existing forms or qualities: "Mannheim Rocket" (sample this, the 18th century Mannheim Rocket is there but does not dominate), Kyrie, Scherzo, and "Pulse." Yet it is not a neoclassic work, although the influence of Stravinsky is detectable, or even a neo-Romantic one; Jalbert uses each of his models not as a whiff of the past but as a basis for energetic, individual forms. The whole makes up the four recognizable movements of a Classical piano quintet. The Piano Quartet of the late Steven Stucky fools with the classical form itself, condensing its sections into a large, single movement that incorporates jazz influences. Pianist Bernadette Harvey brings from her country another single-movement work, the Fantasia for piano quintet by Carl Vine. The final Jalbert piece, mystical and by his own testimony cathedral-like, is entirely different in effect from the Piano Quintet, but contains many of the same ideas. The whole program has a satisfying feeling of coherence despite the diverse origins of the pieces involved. Recommended for fans of chamber music, and a good example of the work being done by Marquis Records, one of North America's few true boutique labels.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Secret Alchemy for violin, viola, violon cello, piano|