Kawarsky: Spoon Hanging from My Nose (CD review)

The Music of J.A. Kawarsky. Various orchestras and conductors. Navona Records NV6194.

If you are like me, you may not be familiar with the name of American composer, conductor, and music professor Jay A. Kawarsky (b. 1959). However, the title and cover art for this first album devoted entirely to his compositions and arrangements, "Spoon Hanging from My Nose," was too hard to resist.

Perhaps Kawarsky's most famous composition, Prayers for Bobby, premiered in 1996 with actress Marlo Thomas narrating and has been performed many times since. Unfortunately, it is not among the pieces on the present album. Nevertheless, it was a fortuitous decision on my part to take a chance and listen to the disc; the music it presents is pleasing, creative, and diverting.

The program consists of four major Kawarsky selections. The first is called Fastidious Notes for solo alto saxophone and chamber orchestra, here performed by Jonathan Helton, alto sax, and the Chicago Arts Orchestra led by Javier Mendoza. As Kawarsky wrote the piece for saxophonist Helton, we have to imagine Helton's interpretation being definitive. It's certainly authoritative and immaculately played. In fact, the whole work is easily accessible, and, as Kawarsky notes, if there are any hints of other composers in the music, well, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

The second item is the longest, a series of eighteen selections: the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, originally written in 1868-69 for vocal quartet and piano four hands and here orchestrated by Kawarsky for multiple voices (the Arizona Choir) and ten instruments. These pieces are really quite beautiful, quite lyrical and lilting renditions, and Brahms is, after all, Brahms. It's charming.

J.A. Kawarsky
The third item on the agenda is called And We All Waited, written for orchestra alone. Kawarsky calls it a reaction to the lack of any new legislation or regulation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra performs the work under the direction of Maestro Petr Vronsky. Again Kawarsky provides hints of other composers, in this case he says Nielsen, Shostakovich, and Reicha, but I also hear Sibelius in there. In any case. the music is not unexpectedly the most somber and earnest on the program. Still, it is easy to listen to because the composer eschews most of the modern conventions that drive audiences to distraction, even Kawarsky's work does get a tad raucous at times.

The final item Kawarsky titled Episodes for piano and orchestra, and it celebrates the 75th anniversary of Westminster Choir College of Rider University, New Jersey. It is performed by the Saint Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, with Vladimir Lande, conductor, and Peter Laul. piano. It has kind of a jazzy beat, all up-tempo and rhythmic in the opening section and alternating with a more-serene landscape as the piece goes on. The most obvious borrowing the composer incorporates here is from Mussorgsky, and it works nicely. The soloist and orchestra afford the whole work a dignified presentation.

Producers John Page, Brad Michel, Vit Muzik, Alexei Barashkin, and Bob Lord, with engineers John McCartney, Brad Michel, Ales Dvorak, Jan Kosulic, and Alexei Barashkin recorded the music at Nichols Concert Hall, Chicago; Tucson Symphony Center, Tucson, AZ; Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic; and Studio 1, House of Radio, St. Petersburg, Russia in 2016-2018.

The various producers and engineers recorded each of the selections in different venues with differing ensembles, so there are some small, inevitable differences in sound. Overall, though, the sonics are smooth and fairly dynamic, with good depth and width qualities. While the opening solo piano is a bit too close for ultimate realism, it helps the performance by emphasizing the instrument. (The closing piano is better balanced.) The choir in the waltzes sounds particularly appealing, since so often choir recordings can be overly bright or edgy. This one is very lifelike. Detailing is a tad on the soft side yet pleasing on the ear, especially as the high end is so well extended. Perhaps not absolute audiophile, but close enough.

Besides, as I say, the album title is hard to resist.

JJP

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


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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 over 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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

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