Motherland: David Aaron Carpenter (CD review)

Music of Dvorak, Bartok, Shor, and Walton. David Aaron Carpenter, viola; Vladimir Jurowski, Kazushi Ono, David Parry, London Philharmonic Orchestra. Warner Classics 0190295697693 (2-disc set).

David Aaron Carpenter is a relatively young (b. 1986) American violist who has been making a name for himself as a concert soloist these last few years. He began studying the violin when he was six and the viola when he was eleven, attending the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, Italy's Accademia Chigiana, Switzerland's International Music Academy, and the Verbier Festival Academy, studying with Pinchas Zukerman, Roberto Diaz, Seiji Ozawa, Robert Mann, Nobuko Imai, Boris Belkin, and Yuri Bashmet. By 2003 he was performing with leading orchestras and conductors throughout the world, and in 2006 he was the first Prize Winner of the Walter W. Naumburg Viola Competition.

"Motherland" is Carpenter's sixth major album and his second for Warner Classics. It's a combination of the old and the new, the familiar and the more unfamiliar. The first disc of this two-disc set begins with the old, Dvorak's Cello Concerto, although even that is somewhat new in that Carpenter plays it in an arrangement for viola. Next is Bartok's Concerto for Viola, followed by something a bit newer, Alexey Shor's Seascapes. Disc two gives us Walton's Concerto for Viola, followed by two more works by Shor. The pieces provide a healthy, varied, and attractive program.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 late in life, between 1894-95, his last concerto work. Yet even that is slightly different since Carpenter performs it as arranged for viola by J. Vieland and Carpenter, with accompaniment by Maestro Kazushi Ono and the London Philharmonic. Aside from the novelty of hearing the cello part played by a viola (which takes a moment or two to get used to because you don't get as sonorous or mellow a sound), the performance appears good but not extraordinary. It's well prepared and well executed, but I found it a trifle routine. And in the slow movement the viola doesn't quite convey the kind of melancholy a cello can impart. Still, the combination of Carpenter's enthusiasm, the viola's vibrant, youthful tone, and the excellence of the orchestra make it worth one's time.

David Aaron Carpenter
Next, we get the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, Sz.120 by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881-1945). Like the Dvorak, the Bartok piece was among the last things the composer wrote. But even this piece is slightly different because Bartok never actually finished it himself, the completion done by Bartok's student, Tibor Serly, in 1949, several years after the composer's death. Maestro Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic accompany Carpenter in the music, which comes off nicely. Carpenter seems in his element here, especially in the instrumental virtuosity he's able to pull off so effortlessly. (That finale with its energetic Hungarian themes is a gymnastic tour de force, with Jurowski and his players keeping up well.)

Disc one ends with a short piece in four parts called Seascapes by Ukrainian-born composer Alexey Shor (b. 1970), who now resides in the U.S. Here, Maestro David Parry and the London Philharmonic accompany Carpenter. Although it may be a modern work, it doesn't sound like one. It's filled with dancing melodies and lively, mostly cheerful tunes. Carpenter's treatment of it makes for a delightful listen.

Disc two contains only three works, one by English composer Sir William Walton (1902-1983) and two more by Alexey Shor. The Walton piece is his Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, written in 1929. The Shor pieces are the brief Two Songs for My Children and the lengthy Well Tempered Chanson. Jurowski leads the London Phil accompanying the Walton piece, and Parry again conducts the orchestra in the Shor works. As on disc one, Carpenter displays a command of the music as well as of the viola. The musical lines are always clear and clean, as well as the performer's conviction.

Overall, I'm not sure Carpenter shows us anything new, but it's good to know there are accomplished musicians ready to assume the mantle of an older generation.

Producer Andrew Walton and engineer Deborah Spanton recorded the music at Saint Augustine's, Kilburn and Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, England in 2017. As with many of the recordings made in Lyndhurst Hall, especially, the sense of orchestral depth is quite good, adding to the overall realism of the sound. There are also good dynamics and a moderately wide frequency response. Transparency is more than adequate, and the extremes of bass and treble seem reasonably well extended. In other words, we have fairly lifelike sound, making the set a pleasure to listen to.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa