Although there are over half a dozen recordings of composer John A. Carollo's music in the catalogue, he may not be entirely familiar to you. According to the Society of Composers, "John was born in Torino, Italy and brought to the U.S. by his adoptive parents. When he was in grade school, studying classical piano and singing in the church choir, his musical friends were listening to English folk-rock music, mostly Fairport Convention and The Pentangle. Moving from Oil City, Pennsylvania to San Diego, California, he attended college, taking courses in music and psychology. During this time, John took piano lessons and began composing his first piano works. He graduated from San Diego State University with a Masters Degree in Psychology. Shortly after, he moved to Honolulu, began a full-time mental health career for the State of Hawaii and began taking private composition lessons with Dr. Robert Wehrman. John's first composition under Bob's tutelage was a piano suite in six parts. Following this effort, Robert encouraged John to compose an atonal work entitled Frenetic Unfoldings for Solo Violin. After completing this large work, John focused his energies on compositions which incorporated various instrumentation."
Anyone whose friends enjoyed Pentangle can't be all bad.
For a little background on Carollo's Symphony No. 3, here's what the composer says about his writing it: "It had its beginnings as a song cycle entitled "Awake Humanity to Nature's Beauty!" I took the poetry of William Blake and set it to music. Blake infuses nature into much of his poetry and he has the distinction of being the father of the Romantic Period in art.
"Beginning with an ode to morning, the music transverses the romantic side of human nature until we reach the evening stillness, which often arouses human appetites. Within our daily dialogue, gestures express ideas or meaning in ways that words cannot convey, where body movements speak louder than utterances. Our gestures can be intensely energetic, billed with vibrato and fire, or calm and deliberate with much playfulness and merriment as we live our daily drama of life. It's within this garden of earthly delights that our cravings, quests, and seductions, where a person whose affection or favor has been son, take on significance and form. The third movement conveys a romantic adventure, while the four satisfies the yearning for human bonding as we indulge in our romantic affairs."
OK. So, the symphony begins quietly, perhaps with the predawn, and then introduces a big splash of color at the break of dawn. These opening moments are reminiscent of much English pastoral music in setting a bucolic tone, but the music soon develops its own spirit as it becomes more animated.
For the slow, third movement, Carollo captions it "In the Garden of Earthly Delight," in homage to both William Blake and, especially, painter Hieronymus Bosch. As we would anticipate from such antecedents, the music, supplemented by a wordless soprano, is episodic, lyrical and frenetic by turns. Carollo calls it "a romantic adventure," which is putting it mildly.
The final movement, "Let the Evening Stillness Arouse," brings us to the end of our day, and just as Carollo began the work, he concludes it with a note of quiet reserve. While I believe the composer expects us to sense a degree of sexual tension in this last chapter--arousal as the title suggests--it ends rather, uh, anticlimactically.
Nevertheless, it's still fun following the various moods, motions, signals, and expressions of modern humankind as we toil through our everyday lives, trying to find some meaning in all of it. As with so much modern music, it's all about expressing different thoughts to different listeners, and surely that's a good thing. And it's all particularly well performed by Maestro Miran Vaupotic and the London Symphony Orchestra, who have always been a good, quick read.
Quibbles? Although it's nice to find new music that's interesting, accessible, and reasonably enjoyable, Carollo's symphony doesn't offer one much time to enjoy it. Yes, the Navona package offers a second disc, but it's mainly more of the same. The CD of the symphony itself is less than thirty minutes long, which seems rather short measure. I know it must be expensive recording with the LSO, but even some short solo works by Carollo might have helped fill out the disc, while at the same time providing an even wider look at the man's output. But, as I say, I quibble.
Executive producer Bob Lord and engineers Brad Michel and Chris Barrett recorded the symphony at Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London in April 2019. The package includes two discs: one a regular two-channel CD and the other a Blu-ray disc containing a mini-documentary on the making of the music and a recording of the symphony in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo LPCM. I listened to the regular two-channel CD, as my surround-sound home theater is in another room, with speakers inferior to those in my main music listening area.
There is good separation of instruments involved, with a warm, effulgent bloom radiating through the more massed passages. Orchestral depth is a tad lacking, and inner transparency can become a bit muddied at times, but it is not unlike what one might expect to hear from an actual concert performance.
Finally, and speaking of two discs, Navona have packaged them in a single, fold-over cardboard container with pockets in each side. This proved difficult to get the discs out without my getting my fingers all over them, always a problem with these kinds of packages but made doubly so by having to deal with two discs. I understand the cost efficiency of the arrangement, but not, unfortunately, the inconvenience to the listener.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: