Saturday, March 28, 2015

'Permutations' on Sono Luminus is an Artistic Triumph of Violist Eliesha Nelson and Pianist James Howsmon, Premiering Works of 4 Americans and a Russian

Eliesha Nelson, Viola
James Howsmon, Piano
Sono Luminus DSL-92186

James Howsmon, piano

Permutations (63:41) has been recorded on Sono Luminus, catalog number DSL-92186,  by violist Eliesha Nelson and pianist James Howsmon, a Professor of Instrumental Accompanying at Oberlin Conservatory.

The liner notes explain a very unusual feature: “This package contains a Pure Audio Blu-rayTM as well as a standard CD.  The Pure Audio Blu-ray will play in any standard Blu-ray player and contains high resolution Surround Sound and Stereo versions of the program material.”

AfriClassical has followed the career of Cleveland Orchestra violist Eliesha Gabrielle Nelson for many years.  Her website is and her blog is  The Biography at her website begins: “I was born and raised in North Pole, Alaska, where I began the violin at the age of six with the Suzuki Method, and piano at age 8. My first violin teacher Peggy Swartz, was actually a cellist, but the Suzuki method was new in the interior of Alaska, and she was one of the few teachers for beginners.”

Often we have featured her performances of works of Cleveland composer H. Leslie Adams.  We have had the opportunity to review all of her CDs. Eliesha has made 3 recordings, each with a special contribution to viola literature.  She began with music of the American composer Quincy Porter (1897-1966) on the 2009 Dorian disc Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works, which Sono Luminus reports is a best-seller. One whimsical similarity between that disc and the present one is that the front cover of each shows Eliesha and her instrument from the front, while the back cover pictures her in the same setting, but from behind.
In 2011 Eliesha Nelson joined with pianist Glen Inanga on a Sono Luminus CD, Russian Viola Sonatas. The three composers had careers in the Soviet period. They are Varvara Gaigerova (1903-1944), Alexander Winkler (1865-1935) and Paul Juon (1872-1940).  The work of Gaigerova and the two compositions of Winkler were World Premiere recordings.
The liner notes Eliesha Nelson has written for Permutations are entitled American Classical Music and the Viola.  The violist writes: “This album is comprised of five virtuosic viola pieces that look at aspects of American music. The five different composers on this recording have all created technically challenging works of strikingly disparate character.”  All of them have done so since 1953, so this program may be characterized as a survey of the viola literature of the past 62 years. The label notes the five compositions are premier recordings.  

John McLaughlin Williams, composer of two works on this disc, has commented to us: “I think the cd is particularly exciting because of the Kapustin; it's a major addition to the viola repertoire."

Eliesha Nelson writes: “All of the composers are American with one exception: Russian Nikolai Kapustin, included because he incorporates American jazz elements in his music.”  She continues: “Nikolai Kapustin was introduced to jazz as a teenager while studying at the Moscow Conservatory, and he masterfully combines it with his deep Russian musical heritage.”    
Nikolai Kapustin composed his Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 69, (16:54) in 1992, according to his website: Its movements are Allegro (7:53), Largo (4:56) and Vivace (4:04).  Kaupustin is a Russian but was born Nov. 22, 1937 in Gorlovka, Ukraine.  The liner notes add: “Nikolai Kapustin turned out to be a classical composer who happens to work in a jazz idiom.”  As of that writing, Kapustin had written 154 compositions.  
We have a long familiarity with John McLaughlin Williams, who contributed Two Pieces for Solo Viola (5:37).  They are Sarabande (2:02) and Toccata (3:34). Eliesha Nelson writes of him: “GRAMMY® winning conductor, composer, pianist and violinist John McLaughlin Williams has always had an affinity for American music and has conducted several recordings under the Naxos label for their ‘American Classics’ series.”  

The notes point out that he was born in Greensboro, North Carolina but was raised in Washington, D.C.  They continue: “Williams and I collaborated on my first album, Quincy Porter Complete Viola Works (DSL-90911), which received several Grammy nominations, and won for Best Engineering, Classical.  The style of his ‘Two Pieces for Viola’ is reminiscent of Fritz Kreisler’s violin showpieces.  He writes: ‘The challenge of writing a solo string work is great; one must surmount problems of tonal monotony by writing not just melody, but also real and implied counterpoint and harmony.  The deeply burnished tone of the viola was my inspiration for the work, and I also wanted to write a viola piece that was truly virtuosic...’ I  am honored that Williams chose to write this piece with me in mind.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                Ross Lee Finney is represented by his Second Sonata for Viola and Piano (18:51).  The work’s first movement is Andante teneramente; Allegro animato (6:30).  Next comes Permutations (2:54).  That is followed by Largo teneramente (3:17).  The fourth movement is Allegro con moto; Misterioso (6:10).  Eliesha Nelson writes: “Ross Lee Finney wrote his second viola sonata in 1953 (revised 1955) which makes it the earliest piece on this recording.  It implements the 12-tone technique (serialism), a compositional tool from the 20th century created by Arnold Schoenberg, who was a member of the Second Viennese School.”  The notes point out ways in which the composer retained some sense of tonality and deviated from the rule against repetition of a note. The violist continues: “The piece takes advantage of the complete viola range, from the lush, mellifluous melody in the first movement to the sprightly triplets in the second and fourth movements.  He ends the piece by restating the very first tone row in simple quarter notes and ending on an a Major chord.”
Jeffrey Mumford,, is represented on this disc by his composition Wending (7:58).  AfriClassical has previously written about this work.  On February 25, 2010 AfriClassical posted: Mumford: ‘Yes wending IS written for the violist Wendy Richman and much of the harmonic material IS based on her name’   Jeffrey Mumford sent notes on his composition in advance of the release of Permutations:                                          

“Here are the program notes with addendae:  Re: ‘wending’, as part of the scenario of the work’s ongoing development, slower moving material is often interrupted by sharply accented chords or single notes which in and of themselves, establish an independent layer of activity. In addition, more rapidly moving passages reveal themselves periodically and eventually transform into tremolos at which point aspects of the more ethereal material from the opening reassert themselves.

“The work is prevailingly rhapsodic and is in one movement.  The recorded performance here by Eliesha Nelson (with whom I have happily worked on many occasions)  is nothing short of stunning!”

George Walker is featured at the website as well as in frequent posts on AfriClassical Blog.  He is a prolific composer with a great many recordings, but the violist has found a work for viola which had not been recorded, his Sonata for Viola and Piano (14:21).  The liner notes tell us: “Walker has written an autobiography describing his intense musical training, the barriers he faced as an African-American performing concert pianist, and how he managed to rise above it all to have a prolific and successful musical career. Walker writes about this sonata: "The 'Sonata for Viola and Piano', composed in 1989, is an atonal work in two movements. Unlike other compositions in this form, the second movement utilizes material similar to that in the first movement. A brief introduction by the piano in the first movement leads into a highly chromatic principal theme in the viola. This reappears several times on different pitch levels with intervallic changes and in rhythmic diminution.

"The somewhat playful principal theme of the second movement in the piano is reiterated in the viola. A brief transition leads to a lyrical second theme. It is restated later in the movement after several recurrences of the principal theme. Vigorous tripl stops in the viola combined with octaves in the piano and a dramatic cadence are followed by a tranquil coda that quotes the first phrase of the fifteenth century popular song, 'L'Homme Arme'. The 'Sonata for Viola and Piano' is dedicated to the composer's father, Dr. George T. Walker."(Copyright George Walker - October 2014).

We believe Eliesha Nelson's third recording is another artistic triumph. She has assembled, and she and pianist James Howsmon have performed, five highly distinctive works which have been combined into a stimulating and enjoyable listening experience which we have repeated many times.

A review copy of this recording was provided by the record label.

Comment by email:
Hello Bill, Thank you for reviewing my new album! I'm glad you like it. I'm sorry I didn't send you the recording myself, but I have yet to receive a copy from the label. However, I've been out of town, so maybe it has arrived! The music was a nice challenge and fun to work on. James Howsmon was a dream to work with! I hope you are well!  Best, Eliesha  [Eliesha Nelson]

No comments: