Review of LNT138: Rob Keeley: Dances with Bears
Jed Distler, Gramophone
Although Rob Keeley may be known among contemporary music mavens for his formidable pianistic prowess and championing of new works, he is a serious and skilful composer in his own right, as these six works dating from 1996 to 2011 prove.
Scored for three clarinets, vibraphone and string trio, Quetzalli’s chordal blocks recall Messiaen’s textures and harmonic language, although On the Tiles for violin and piano lets looser in terms of contrasting material and emotions, especially in the wide-ranging, unfettered violin writing. The title-piece, Dancing with Bears, is for oboe, violin, viola, cello and piano, and stands out in its subtle slow-moving sequences and the closing Allegro’s angular dotted rhythms and quirky voicings. Virtuoso deployment of registers lends interest to the well crafted yet rather academic-sounding Inventions for flute and clarinet. Keeley’s annotations admit to his avoidance of writing much for strings until he decided to take the plunge with Tales from the Golden City for violin solo. Despite some fine double-stop passages, the music would gain power and intensity if it branched more frequently into the higher range and made more imaginative use of pizzicato effects.
The four-movement Concerto for piano and 12 instruments offers this disc’s strongest musical substance and intricate scoring. The first movement’s neo-Baroque toccata-like textures get interesting when they begin to slow down and stick together, while the Alla marcia could be likened to Hindemith meeting Spike Jones’s rhythm section. I would have expected a bravura fourth movement rather than a reticent finale but the third-movement Adagio’s fragile instrumental blending and tender lyrical writing is worth this well-recorded and superbly performed disc’s asking price.