Richard Stoltzman

State of the Union

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In contrast to the sensationalized packaging of this CD, Roger Rudenstein's State of the Union (part of a larger work, The Nightmare of Reason, based on the painting of the same name by Goya) is no populist diatribe against George W. Bush, but an uncompromisingly modernist, abstract reflection on his words. Two of its three movements take a phrase from his 2005 "State of the Union" address and set it for soprano, tenor, bass-baritone, and instrumental septet, but the vocal component of each movement is minimal; the spiky instrumental lines and astringent harmonies predominate. Rudenstein tends to write at the extremes of vocal and instrumental ranges, and the performers' straining attempts could be construed as a metaphor for the texts' disturbing messages. The more pronounced effect, though, is the impression that his skills in vocal writing and instrumentation are not up to the task of sustaining his musical and ideological concepts. He has enlisted some topnotch performers, most notably clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and soprano D'Anna Fortunato, but the awkwardness of the scoring sometimes even leaves these virtuosos sounding flummoxed. Rudenstein's 2006 Sonata for clarinet and piano and his Piano Sonata No. 7 are more conventional pieces, and are musically less thorny than State of the Union, but lack strongly compelling musical logic and substance.

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