Critics applaud Bolcom's timely new work for "unusual consort of clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin, cello and piano"
Terry Ross, July 26, 2017
In its six movements, for the unusual consort of clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin, cello and piano, all playing in the multitonal, eclectic style that has ruled contemporary music in recent years, Sextet is SERIOUS… The three-minute opening movement Pastorale is anything but; edgy and nervous, it is thoroughly urban in its texture and mood. Then, after a three-minute march and a two-minute Nocturne, we encounter Catastrophe, a rhythmic, bestial outburst reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, followed by extreme stillness and then again the outburst. This leads us into the heart of the piece, the fifth movement’s Variation and Theme, based on a Christian hymn called “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” with its conventional harmonies, which is the only truly hopeful section of the piece. Sextet then ends with a one-minute Coda. Coming after the Martinu, it was a breath of musical modernism: not atonal, not relentlessly dissonant, earnest and often quietly expressive.
Santa Fe New Mexican - Pasatiempo
James M. Keller, August 25, 2017
The Sextet is indeed dark, though it is not depressing. It seems to honor various composers who have come before. The opening Pastorale may hark back to Stravinsky or, more directly, to Milhaud, who was one of Bolcom’s teachers. Next comes a March; it owes something to Kurt Weill. The Nocturne has a Franco-American flavor reminiscent of early Copland. None of the movements are mere imitation, though, and all of them are convincingly crafted. A gritty, sustained expanse titled Catastrophe serves as a portal to the Variation and Theme, which is not cheerful on the whole. The “Lift Every Voice” melody is worked tightly into the texture, and at one point it is intoned by the trumpet. The moment is reminiscent of a similar turn in the finale of Honegger’s Symphony No. 2, which was written in Paris in 1941, during the Nazi occupation. There a trumpet joins the anxious strings that surround it, sounding a chorale that gleams with resolution and proposes the possibility of triumph even against a background of despair. That was also its effect here. In a coda, Bolcom has the violin whisper what sounded like a phrase from “Rock-a-bye Baby.” Was it intended as that? Was it meant to suggest comfort? Or is it possible that Bolcom’s “taking a chance here” had to do with a more sinister treetop — with lynching? I hope we will have an opportunity to hear this piece again and see what emotions it inspires on a repeat visit.