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Album Review: Spheres: The Music of Robert Paterson
Claremont Trio and Robert Paterson
Cover image of the album Spheres: The Music of Robert Paterson by Claremont Trio and Robert Paterson
Spheres: The Music of Robert Paterson
Claremont Trio and Robert Paterson
2017 / American Modern Recordings
72 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Spheres: The Music of Robert Paterson is a collection of two trios and an elegy composed by Robert Paterson and performed by The Claremont Trio. Paterson has been described as a “modern day master” and his music has earned accolades as well as awards and grants in virtually every classical category. The son of a sculptor and a painter, Paterson composed his first piece at the age of thirteen. He is the founder, artistic director, and house composer of the American Modern Ensemble, which spotlights American music via lively thematic programming. He also directs the affiliated record label, American Modern Recordings (AMR). Paterson holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music (BM), Indiana University (MM), and Cornell University (DMA) and gives master classes at colleges and universities all over the country. His new opera, Three Way, will have its premier later this year. 

The Claremont Trio has been called “one of America’s finest young chamber groups” and was formed in 1999 at the Juilliard School by twin sisters Emily (violin) and Julia (cello) Bruskin and pianist Donna Kwong. Andrea Lam is currently the principal pianist for the Trio, and both she and Kwong perform on this album. Spheres is the Claremont Trio’s sixth album.

“Moon Trio” (2015) was commissioned by the Claremont Trio and Rick Teller and consists of four movements. “Moonbeams” has a playful interaction between the three instruments that is bright and lively, mysterious, and often shimmering. There seems to be a fair amount of humor in “Lunatic Asylum,” a piece that avoids going over the top, but just barely. The themes are constantly changing in mood and style, which makes the piece very memorable and fun to listen to - a favorite. “Blue Moon” is more dreamlike with elements of mystery and drama. “Moon Trip” is a musical ride on a rocket ship from lift-off to finding solid ground. More ambient than melodic, it’s a fascinating excursion.

“Sun Trio” was composed for the same instrumentation as “Moon Trio,” this time featuring pianist, Donna Kwong. This work has five movements and originated in 1995 when Paterson was scoring a documentary, and was revised in 2008. “Sun Day” seeks to evoke feelings that are experienced when “mid-day sunbeams appear from between the clouds and warm your skin” (quoted from the liner notes). “Sunset” is much darker and more mysterious, with hints of a tango and nighttime magic. The other three movements are “Absence of Sun,” “Sunrise,” and “Sun Dance.”

“Elegy for Two Cellos and Piano” is performed by Julia Bruskin, Karen Ouzounian (cello), and Andrea Lam. With references to two of JS Bach’s Cello Suites as well as one of his Preludes, it was originally composed in memory of cellist Charles P. McCracken. The piece is also about the loss of innocence from childhood to adulthood and how too many people lose their sense of childlike curiosity and playfulness along the way. Smoother and more melodic than some of the other tracks, this piece is quite elegant and very beautiful.

Spheres is a fascinating and very enjoyable listening experience, but it does have its challenging moments. Robert Paterson’s music is more lyrical and accessible than many modern classical composers’ and the musicianship of the Claremont Trio is breath-taking. The album is available from Amazon and iTunes.
April 24, 2017
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Latest ReviewsModern Classical