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CD Review

Aaron Jay Kernis

  • Second Symphony
  • Musica Celestis
  • Invisible Mosaic III
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Hugh Wolff
Phoenix PHCD160 56m DDD
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Aaron Jay Kernis was born in 1960 in Philadelphia and started studying the violin at a very young age. He was already teaching himself the piano at 12 and a year later continued his studies at the San Francisco Conservatory and Yale Schools of Music.

Kernis made his first important breakthrough in 1983 with the orchestral work, 'Dream of the Morning Sky'. Today, 22 years after this vital event, the composer is one of America's most honoured musicians with many prizes and awards under his belt. In all truth, I expected to be treated to just under an hour of some really hostile atonalities coming to Kernis for the first time, instead I was regaled to a feast full of intellectual power encapsulated within a musical framework that finds its roots in the romantic and early 20th Century eras. Hints of Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler and even Copland are easily discernible; still these scores are a tribute to the unique originality of Kernis' language.

The Second Symphony in particular, is a tour-de-force of tremendous energy portraying the composer's dilemma with the moral and social issues of the early 1990's

'Musica Celestis' opening is certainly indebted to Wagner's 'Lohengrin', but then develops into an example of different string colours that gradually lead towards an ecstatic view of Minimalism. Two thirds through, the piece includes a very animated passage.

'Invisible Mosaic III' is a shining example of inspiration depicting the surface brilliance and elaborate craftsmanship of Ravenna's famous Byzantine mosaics. The fusion of glittering textures and wildly disparate sections into a larger unifying span brings out both these aspects with clarity and strength. Kernis' method to move from an initial chaotic outburst to an expansive and majestic tonal end works wonders in over simplifying the work.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's versatility and keen sense of unison serve the music's marvellously well, and Hugh Wolff's unobtrusive but detailed conducting brings out all the dramatic intensity of these scores. An enterprising reissue (first released by Decca in 1997) of a modern day visionary whose message must not go unheeded.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech