Friday, April 1, 2011


Ethan Wickman. Portals and Passages. Nicholas Phillips, pianist. Albany. "Wickman [is] a composer based at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. . . . Last year two appealing pieces appeared on disc simultaneously: Angles of Repose, recorded by the new-music group Zeitgeist (Innova), and Namasté, performed by the Avalon String Quartet (Albany). Now comes the first album entirely devoted to Mr. Wickman’s music, featuring piano works composed from 2003 to 2010 as played by Nicholas Phillips, a Wisconsin faculty colleague. The music here, essentially tonal, pledges allegiance to no particular ism, save for a personable eclecticism rooted in respect for tradition. Mr. Wickman sometimes puts his forebears to work. From the rolling agitation that opens Invention for St. Vincent in the Mezquita, inspired by a Spanish cathedral built in the heart of a former mosque, emerges a passage from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, that evokes both architecture and piety. A nostalgic song by Mr. Wickman’s great-grandfather, Alfred M. Durham, provides In Winter: Reverberations on a Theme with material for melancholy elaboration. And the frisky finale of Inside the Hubble Toolbox, a four-part suite by turns epic and dreamy, spins out from a fleck of the Allegretto of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Elsewhere Mr. Wickman’s borrowings are more spiritual than literal. You might sense late Brahms in the measured reverie of Passages for Piano, while in Forbidden Parallels the influences of gamelan and early Copland intertwine amiably. Mr. Phillips is an able and persuasive advocate throughout. Start here, then proceed to the Zeitgeist and Avalon recordings" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 2/4/11].