In its first commercial release in a decade, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble releases two commissions from its 30th Anniversary Season.
Kieren MacMillan's "Drunken Moon" (a companion piece to Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire) is the story of two characters: a woman seeking love, and the man she meets (or perhaps invents) in her quest for fulfillment.
Thomas Albert's "Night Music" is a haunting series of nocturnal scenes, ranging from the extremes of the arctic night to a nightmare of the mythical demon Incubus.
It's taken 31 years, but the wait is worth it. Last week, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble unveiled its first album. Ever. PNME has been included on a half-dozen discs, but has never had one entirely to itself, which is amazing considering its many important commissions over the years, including those under founder David Stock (who, as an oversight, is not referenced at all in the disc's notes). This final breakthrough comes partially courtesy of the Argosy Foundation. The present manifestation of PNME under artistic director Kevin Noe has quite a mojo going that certainly comes across on the disc, even without its trademark theatrical and visual elements. The disc contains two pieces, Kieren MacMillan's "Drunken Moon" and Thomas Albert's "Night Music," two excellent recent PNME commissions. Both are imaginative, accessible and wonderfully diverse works subject here to sensitive playing. "Drunken Moon" is MacMillan's "prequel" to Schoenberg's landmark "Pierrot Lunaire." Balanced better here than in the live performance of July 2006, soprano Sharla Nafziger and baritone Timothy Jones vocally entwine above lush strains from the instrumentalists in this tale of a women yearning for love. Sonically nothing like Schoenberg, the settings of poems by Yeats, Dickinson, Neruda and more are similarly mysterious and melancholy to "Pierrot." Albert's "Night Music" reflects on the musical tradition of quiet night music (hinting at Mozart), but can't help but step out of the shadows. Three delicate nocturnes structure the work. But the intervening movements let the other aspects of night emerge, from nightmares to dreams to sounds of nature. Albert's flowing writing connects it all in a splendor of sound and signifying that finds capable advocacy in PNME's talented performers. A strong debut to say the least. Four stars. --Andy Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/2/2007