VOLKER Young Prometheus
More than half of this disc of music by the American composer Mark Volker is devoted to the titular Young Prometheus, a suite drawn from an updated ballet inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The ballet’s protagonist (and title) is Frank, described in the booklet note as ‘a young, disfigured middle school misfit “created” by adolescence and society’.
Volker’s music for the ballet eschews horror-film blood and thunder. Instead, the tale of Frank and his path from outsider to admired figure is depicted in eight scenes of colourful and propulsive activity. Scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, the work reveals Volker’s gift for dramatic incident and portraiture. Buoyant rhythmic elements, sometimes nudged by jazz inflections, keep tense and exuberant moments on their toes. Aside from its roots in dance, the suite is an appealing chamber piece the musicians on this recording play with vivid artistry.
The scoring is identical, with clarinet doubling on bass clarinet, in Three Quotations, inspired by quotes from Robert Aitken, Sylvia Plath and Alvin Toffler; the piece is a fine example of the composer’s affinity for moody lyricism and spunky metrical changes. A string quartet evokes a painting by Raphaëlle Goethals in Dust to Dust, in which Volker binds poignant and impassioned gestures to summon ‘the ephemeral, but substantive, progression of human life’.
Matthew Davich is the excellent soloist in Echoes of Yesterday for clarinet and interactive electronics. The work’s atmospheres are generated as the clarinet prompts all sorts of sonic responses from a computer, which is more than amenable to entering into magical and otherworldly conversation.