Various Artists

James Hartway: Imaginary Creatures; Three Myths; Images of Mogador; Scenes from a Marriage

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American composer James Hartway is, by his own admission, rather accessible when it comes to composing pieces on commission. This album of four of his chamber works features three such commissioned works. Hartway's approach to composition is very visual, the themes for many movements evoking imagery either directly through lyrics, as in "Imaginary Creatures," or abstractly, as in "Images of Mogador." In either case, Hartway certainly has a definite program in mind for the majority of the work heard here. What comes into question on this album is how successful the performances are at delivering these programmatic aspects. Three Myths for Piano, performed by pianist and commissioner Pauline Martin, is well played but it is uncertain whether a listener would arrive at any specific imagery without advanced knowledge of the program. "Imaginary Creature," which relies on the soprano to delineate the program, is certainly more accessible and easier to understand. The performance here, however, is lacking. The string quartet's sound is not unified and suffers from frequent intonation deficiencies. Soprano Pamela Schiffer's vibrato is quite wide, particularly against the rather tight, constricted sound of the strings. Perhaps the most clever and best-performed work on the program is Scenes from a Marriage, composed for piano, four-hands. Simply knowing the title of the witty composition is more than enough for listeners to create their own imagery. Catherine Wilson and Robert Conway do a splendid job of capturing the changing moods, although their recorded sound is a little weak and thin.

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