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Viola Swirl

Fanfare, 2010

William Zagorski

The first thing that struck me while auditioning this release was Carol Rodland's tone: larger than life, sweetly in tune, and infinitely variegated. Given this disc's engineering, her viola on the lower reaches of its C string often sounds like a surrogate cello, and her high-position A string-playing sounds like she is in command of a super violin. The piano sound is similarly rewarding. Rodland started out as a violinist at age four, began studying piano at age seven, and viola at age 13. She can count Karen Tuttle and Kim Kashkashian among her teachers, and made her debut as viola soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1985. Since then, Rodland has served as professor at the Musikhochschule "hanns Eisler" in Berlin (1996-2000), at Arizona State University (2001-2002), and in the guest faculty capacity at Juilliard (2003-2004). She currently teaches at the the New England Conservatory. Her choice of Kenji Bunch's 1998 Suite for Viola and Piano was an apt one for opening this program. Bunch (b. 1973) is himself an accomplished violist, and his five-movement Suite, composed in 1998 for Naoko Shimizu, plays into Carol Rodland's strengths. Given its double stopping, sustained cantilena passages, and moments of rapid passage work, Suite demands a high degree of technical virtuosity allied with interpretive insight to realize its considerable musical poetry. In order to get an esthetic handle on this harmonically tonal, quirky, and highly affecting piece, bear in mind that Orgon-born Bunch, a Juilliard graduate, studied viola with Toby Appel and composition with Robert Beaser. In that latter discipline, he has also been mentored by Stanley Wolfe and Ewazen. As a performer he is in demand for his expertise in new and experimental music. He also plays fiddle in the New York blue-grass band Citigrass; is often a featured guest with several prominent rock and jam bands; and teaches at the Mark O'Connor Strings Conference in San Diego among other less-than-traditional institutions. Like so many contemporary composers, Bunch categorically rejects confining musical categories. Dan Coleman was born in New York City in 1972, and is yet another worthy Juilliard alumnus. He moved to Arizona in 1999 and currently serves as composer-in-residence of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, a post that began in the 2002-2003 season. His post-Romantic "Summer", composed in 2003 for Carol Rodland, was inspired by his Arizona environs. It starts as a peaceful pastoral meditation - the viola being the voice of the artist; the piano, that of nature. Bit by bit they diverge, strive for reconciliation, and fail- leaving the piece to end in a state of benign mystery. Christopher Theofanidis was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1967. He holds degrees from Yale, Eastman School of Music, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among others; and currently teaches at both Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the Juilliard School. "Flow, My Tears" was requested by Carol Rodland in 1996, the year that Jacob Druckman, who mentored Theofanidis, died of lung cancer at age 68. Theofanidis decided to create this elegiac piece in his honor. The result is the most intesely gut-wrenching composition on this release. Its mere seven-minute duration seems to go from the preset to sternity. When limited to the most minimal of resources, truly gifted composers rise to unprecedented heights. My reaction to Rodland's performances of the Gershwin and Porter suites can be summed in a single word- delicious. She understands that both Gershwin, and, more to the point, Porter, are rightfully honorable contributors to our grand musical space-time continuum. As mentioned above, the sound is excellent, not only allowing the listener to savor Rodland's tone, but in giving Tatevik Mokatsian's piano an at once full-bodied and subtle realization. My only criticism of this offering is that, given its mere 52-minute and 41-second duration, it left me wating more. But, alas, I suspect that the producer, Carol Rodland herself, insidiously planned it that way.