REVIEWS: Conrad Chow’s Premieres, Featuring Works by Bruce Broughton

[From The Whole Note
Written by Ivana Popovic
]The concept of this project is new works that are inspired by earlier musical styles. Bruce Broughton’s Triptych: Three Incongruities for violin and chamber orchestra (in this case 15 solo instruments) is essentially a type of concerto, with each movement written in a different style. Thus, we hear influences of J.S. Bach’s violin music in the first movement, Prokofiev and more romantic expressions in the second and rhythmic, dance-like elements of Scottish fiddle music in the third. Another composition by Broughton, Gold Rush Songs, is based on three American songs associated with the California Gold Rush.

Ronald Royer’s Rhapsody displays influences of French impressionism and Spanish violin music, among others, with mysterious elements in the first movement and more rhythmic expressions in the second. Royer’s In Memoriam J.S. Bach is based on different motifs from Bach’s works. Sarabande is expressive, even romantic at times, while Capriccio carries playfulness coupled with recognizable Bach rhythms.

Joy for solo violin and string orchestra by Kevin Lau is a lyrical, meditative piece that lets the soloist explore different colours and textures. Conrad Chow’s tone has a wonderful quality of sweetness, which is most prominent in Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, No.20 Op. posth., the encore piece on the album. His playing is rhythmical and precise, and he easily traverses the variety and depth of expression in each piece.

Some may argue that contemporary classical music should be forward-looking and not an evocation of the styles and musical tastes of the past. This, however, should not limit the scope of creativity and inspiration, which can spring from all objects and times. If your musical tastes enjoy revisiting compositional styles of the previous centuries while using contemporary expressions and techniques, this recording is a wonderful opportunity to hear Toronto composers in collaboration with Toronto musicians.

[From Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
Written by Grego Applegate
]Canadian violinist Conrad Chow brings his impressive talent to bear on a series of Premieres (Cambria CD-1204) of works by Bruce Broughton, noted LA film composer, and the Canadian composers Ronald Royer and Kevin Lau. Royer himself conducts the Sinfonia Toronto. Broughton accompanies Chow on piano for the two final chamber works.

Chow has a sweet, pleasing, just slightly hollow tone for the lyrical passages. He generates great torque and excitement for the virtuoso fireworks that some of the movements contain.

To the music: Broughton combines neo-classicism in a post-Stravinsky mold, Scottish fiddle style and Prokofiev-ian drive and bittersweetness for his “Tryptich: Three Incongruities for Violin and Chamber Orchestra.” The incongruities work together for a fascinating spin. You experience well put-together movements, each of which plays against the other while also playing on internal stylistic tensions within the movement to create vivid contrasts. In the process there is a connecting thread of linear thrust that unifies this very interesting work.

Royer’s “Rhapsody” has a late-romantic, early-modernist lyrical liveliness that makes it something more than a hearkening back. His “In Memoriam J.S. Bach” returns the program to a neo-classical (neo-baroque) stance, with a slightly tart modern touch, passages in five and an otherwise updating and impressionistic treatment of the Master-as-inspiration.

“Joy” for Violin and String Orchestra introduces the music of Kevin Lau to us. Attractive, largo-esque lyricism is at play here for the short work. It has an earthy appeal but goes by all-too-quickly.

For the final works Chow and Broughton team up for some concluding contrasts. The pianist’s “Gold Rush Songs” treat loosely, creatively and imaginatively three folk songs associated with the San Francisco area Gold Rush of the 1800’s. The music has great charm. Finally as a bonus the two perform a violin-piano transcription of Chopin’s “Nocturne” in C-Sharp Minor, which sounds quite lovely in their hands.

So there you have it. Conrad Chow is a voice of distinction, impeccable in technique and a most vivid painter of tone. He has a glorious sound and handles each of these works as if he was born to them.

The works themselves are very refreshing to hear. The roots of the classical and folk past undergo imaginative transformations, so that each work in its own way makes it all new. Each composer has a clear vision of how present and past can transform to a future of repeated pleasure for our appreciative ears. The Sinfonia sounds disciplined and well-disposed toward these works.

A great surprise! Recommended.

[From barczablog
Written by Leslie Barcza
]Whatever you think of the music on PREMIERES – violinist Conrad Chow’s CD of original musical compositions for violin with different groupings of accompanying instruments— the concept seems to be original.

My eyebrows went up when I heard that a young violinist was recording a series of new compositions. Honestly, I don’t know if this is really an original idea or simply something new to me; but it seems like a very fresh idea, to team up an unknown player with unknown music.

One of the saddest realities is the fate of the so-called “new music” commissioned for concerts. Few compositions survive their first presentation. That’s makes the title of Chow’s CD portentous if not ironic, when you consider how few compositions survive the premiere, to be revived, let alone entering the performing repertoire for that instrument.

Having a soloist commission composers is an ideal gig, because the goal is symbiotic, a win-win relationship. Soloists need the music going forward, and so inevitably will give the composition subsequent performances, thereby avoiding that dreaded fate of the premiere/farewell performance.

I don’t know whether Conrad Chow simply sought out a series of composers, or whether there was something more complex. (recording label facilitating the matchup? composers sharing the gig?)

I’ve been listening to PREMIERES for days now, the CD that’s in my car, in my laptop at home, or in my office downtown. It’s a kind of acid test, pressing a recording into this kind of extreme service, one that exposes the good and the bad. Having been through it completely at least seven times, plus a few extra visits to specific tracks, I’m very pleased with Chow’s project, with the compositions, and the resulting CD.

Different pieces have grabbed me at different times over the past few days. Each one has to be considered a success, given that I surrendered to each one, and have decided I adore some.

Bruce Broughton’s contribution was for me the most significant, representing the pieces that are holding on to me with a series of friendly ear-worms that refuse to let go.

Broughton opens the CD with Triptych, a piece that puzzled me for the longest time: until I noticed the subtitle “Three Incongruities for Violin and Chamber Orchestra”. Earlier this week, my back was up in response to the way these three pieces bump into one another like flavours that shouldn’t be on the same plate: that is, if one expects them to be unified. Once I noticed the sub-title (forgive me, I was listening to the music in my car over and over, not in a concert hall), the composition clicked into place for me.

The first movement sounded like a modernist take-off of the prelude from Bach’s Partita in E.

Take-off? Parody? I want to include all possibilities, such as tribute, playful imitation, stretching the boundaries a bit even while reinforcing the trope. I want to invoke a sense of fun even as the piece reminds us of something antique. We are again in the presence of many of the same disciplinary concerns as one finds in Bach’s writing, both for the composer (who at times feels as though he is paraphrasing or commenting, while at other times, inventing out of nothing) and then for Chow as the fiddler. Broughton mentions Prokofiev in the program notes, which isn’t surprising considering the neo-classical touches (e.g. using woodwinds in a concertante manner), the transparent textures & the unapologetic pacing. The second movement soars with the violin, including sections where Chow seems especially comfortable with the agile turns of melody.

By the third part of the triptych we’re in an entirely different place, a folky fiddle sound that took me by surprise. Yet —after being a bit perturbed initially –I see now that they work off of each other beautifully, like the apple following the cheese.

Broughton’s other contribution is a series of short pieces called Gold Rush Songs, that I’ve been humming —badly—all week. The glimpses of Broughton’s playfulness in the Triptych are consummated in these happy pieces, containing snatches of tunes that tempt you to sing along even as they refuse to do the obvious thing (and making them deceptively hard to emulate).

Speaking of happy, I find myself more and more impressed by the work of the most junior contributor, namely Kevin Lau’s Joy. I found myself perhaps a bit like that insomniac Princess of that fairy tale with the pea causing her to toss and turn in her bed. Joy opens with several strong gestures from the orchestra, phrases reminding me of some compositions I’ve heard before —that I love—before moving through a series of moods. After listening a few times, I’ve grown more and more impressed that Lau took the stage boldly, a self-assured voice with something to say. Joy is a troubling piece precisely because it questions happiness and joy, teasing us with lovely moments that refuse to promise us an easy happily-ever-after. Lau is to be commended for bravely undertaking the old romantic project of exploring philosophical truths in his creation. I love his ambition, and even more, I believe he did a fair job in his exploration of the idea.

Ronald Royer contributed two wonderful pieces, each in two movements. His Rhapsody begins with an eclectic sound reminding me at times of jazzy bits of Ravel, at other times of Hindemith. His In Memoriam, JS Bach is another neo-classical piece (recalling that the first piece on the CD from Broughton also incorporates older music in a new frame-work), although far more adventurous than Broughton’s piece. Where Broughton’s writing reminded me of a commission where the soloist might have said “please don’t let it be too dissonant”, Royer manages to wander away from the old, without the need to be dissonant or overly complex. His writing has wonderful clarity, several gestures coming directly from the violinist that connect it solidly to the tradition of a performer demonstrating their virtuosity.

Indeed, the entire album is a stunning showcase for Conrad Chow, who bursts onto the scene —or at least into the soundtrack in my car–authoritatively and decisively. Chow shows us a broad array of styles (ably accompanied by Sinfonia Toronto), so many ways of playing and being musical in diverse styles, that the recording will surely raise his profile.

[From The Toronto Star
Written by John Terauds
]3.5 out of 4 stars

Toronto violinist Conrad Chow is being boldly different with his debut album. Instead of reaching for well-worn classics, he has recorded five works that he has either premiered in concert, or is premiering on disc. But unlike most collections of new music, Chow’s is all about accessibility. Each piece makes a strong reference to classical styles or film music.

Toronto composers Kevin Lau and Ronald Royer figure prominently, joined by two pieces by Hollywood’s Bruce Broughton. The disc’s encore is the posthumously published C-sharp minor Nocturne No. 20 by Chopin, transcribed for violin and piano. Chow shows off a nice balance between technique and musicality in a program that alternates between fireworks and sweet expressiveness. Members of Sinfonia Toronto, augmented by woodwinds and brass, accompany beautifully, with Royer conducting. There is much to enjoy in these 73 minutes. And, unlike most easy-listening music, there is enough in these scores to feed a serious listener’s imagination as well. You can hear Chow in action at his album launch concert June 28 at Gallery 345.

[From Fanfare Magazine]Bruce Broughton’s Triptych: Three Incongruities could be the entry into 21st-century music for a music lover who has previously shunned it. He knows how to entertain an audience and proves it on this disc. —Maria Maxham

Broughton’s set of Gold Rush Songs for violin and piano push further into the realm of instrumental virtuosity and harmonic inventiveness while at the same time incorporating actual songs from the era, all appearing in a more complex harmonic idiom than their originals did. Broughton provides piano support, for his three Gold Rush Songs, the sort of artful Americana that Heifetz had a fondness for.

Premieres was the top-selling CD on Soundscan’s Canadian Sales Charts for its debut week (July 10). —David Nelson