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CD Review: Joseph Macerollo


Joseph Macerollo, accordion
Beverly Johnston, percussion
Erica Goodman, harp
Robert W. Stevenson, bass clarinet

The Composer's Orchestra
Gary Kulesha, conductor


Alexina Louie: Refuge for accordion, harp & vibraphone
Alexina Louie: Earth Cycles for accordion & tape
Torbjorn Lundquist: Duell for accordion and percussion
Norman Symonds: Persuasion for accordion & bass clarinet
Walter Buczynksi: Fantasy on Themes of the Past for accordion & string orchestra
Charles Camilleri: Concerto for Accordion and Strings

Total Time: 73:43
Released in 1996

label: Musica Viva (CBC Records) MVCD 1096
PO Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6

Review by Henry Doktorski:

Canadian Joseph Macerollo is one of the giants of the classical accordion; he is a pioneer amongst pioneers and his list of accomplishments is impressive. He has performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the McGil l Chamber Orchestra and the Esprit Orchestra, as well as chamber groups such as the percussion ensemble NEXUS and the Orford String Quartet. He is also an educator and engineered the acceptance of the accordion at the faculty of Music, University of Toro nto and at Queen's University in Kingston.

As an administrator, he is president of three organizations: New Music Concerts, Pro Arte Orchestra and The Classical Accordion Society of Canada. He is on the board of directors of the following: Canadian Music Centre, Mississauga Music Council, Mississ auga Civic Centre Opera, Guelph Performing Arts Centre and is a founding member of the International Accordion Society headquartered in Finland. He has commissioned dozens of works of the accordion and is the author of the well-researched text book "The Accordion Resource Manual.

I have known Joseph Macerollo since 1990, when I first discovered the classical accordion, and have waited patiently seven years for this, his first solo CD. I was not disappointed; it is a landmark in chamber music recordings for the classical accordion . I am of the opinion that the accordion is most successful in combination with other instruments, and Macerollo wisely programmed a CD (over 73 minutes worth!) full of wonderful chamber and orchestral works.

The program is diverse; each piece is completely different. The first work, Refuge, by Canadian composer Alexina Louie, is scored for accordion, harp and vibraphone. It is a textural piece which exploits the diverse timbres of the instruments and has mo ments reminiscent of an Oriental dance.

The second piece, Louie's Earth Cycles, is scored for accordion and tape, although the sounds of the tape are essentially recordings of accordion, percussion, vibraphone and chimes, sometimes layered up to ten times. The three movements are titled: Flowi ng Stream, New Moon and Spring Rounds. The piece is full of atmosphere and mystery; the third movement harmonies reminded me of similar progressions found in Ralph Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica, another mysterious and atmospheric work.

The Swedish composer, Torbjorn Lundquist, wrote Duell (for accordion and percussion) in 1966 for another great accordion pioneer: Mogens Ellegaard. The form is metamorphic or what Lundquist calls "Raketen Form" (Rocket Form) because the music acts like a three-stage rocket, where every new stage is forced out of the previous one. The piece indeed sometimes seems to explode as the composer fully exploits the possibilities of the percussion and accordion combination.

I was present in Toronto during the International Accordion Celebration (organized by Macerollo) in 1993 when Persuasion for accordion and bass clarinet by the Canadian composer Norman Symonds was premiered. (During that festival I also heard for the fir st time Quartetto Gelato, Friedrich Lips, Mogens Ellegaard, Miny Dekkers and Hugo Noth.) Persuasion is a modern atonal jazz piece with sections which seem to be freely improvised. The piece is a musical impression based loosely on various meanings of th e word "Persuasions," such as intimidation, sweet-talk, reason and coquetry.

Despite the excellence of the chamber music on this CD, my favorite pieces are the works for accordion and orchestra. The Composers' Orchestra under the capable baton of conductor Gary Kulesha, is a tightly-knit ensemble which has a delightfully vibrant and lush sound. The combination of accordion and strings is extremely beautiful.

The Canadian composer Walter Buczynski composed Fantasy on Themes of the Past in five movements: 1) Old Polish Folk Airs, 2) Tango, 3) Fast Fingers, 4) Waltz and 5) Square Steady Beat. Due to my Polish heritage I recognized some of the tunes in the first movement, although I must admit that Buczynski (Polish also, I presume) surprised me with his humorous treatment; parts of the piece are really funny. The third movement utilizes some great jazz riffs and progressions and the waltz contains some quotes from popular Strauss waltzes.

Buczynski very cleverly utilizes the free-bass left-hand manual for the serious sections, and utilizes the stradella left-hand manual for the more humorous sections (more fuel for my theory that the stradella accordion is often used by composers as a joki ng comedian). The final movement, Square Steady Beat, caught my ear immediately with its dynamic all-pervasive low string-bass ostinato on the down beat contrasted with the high violin pizzicato ostinato on the upbeats, not unlike a contemporary rock bas s and drum beat. The contrapuntal boogie woogie sections are great!

The final piece on the CD, Charles Camilleri's Concerto for Accordion and Strings in three movements (Andante moderato, Andante and Allegro vivace), is probably the most accessible piece on the album for most classical music lovers. The first movement (in traditional sonata-allegro form) could have been written by Mozart or Haydn -- the style is definitely late eighteen-century classical. I always wondered what Mozart might have written for the accordion if it had been invented a century or two earlier; Camilleri provides us with food for thought.

The Andante recreates a plaintive organ-like hymn chorale, while the Allegro vivace is a shocking surprise -- not in the 18th or 19th century style like the first two movements, but in a decidedly dissonant 20th century idiom! I would never guess that t he third movement came from the same concerto as the previous two movements. None-the-less, the finale demonstrates the fire and vigor of the solo accordion in dialogue with the strings. This CD is a "must have" for any classical accordion lover.

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